Meredith Speck made the most out of her first start of the season for the North Carolina Courage. (Photo courtesy of the Courage)

Meredith Speck, who made her first start of the season, could not have found a better time to score her first career goal for the North Carolina Courage Saturday night.

The Rockville Centre, N.Y. native tallied in the first half to lift the Courage to a 1-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

The win leap frogged North Carolina (6-4-3, 21 points) over Gotham FC (5-2-5, 20) into second place.

Speck, 28, who played for Riley on the Long Island Fury years ago, broke the ice for the Courage in the 38th minute.

The scoring sequence began with a lofted ball from Carson Pickett, finding Jessica McDonald in the box. Redirecting a header on frame, McDonald’s attempt was saved by a diving goalkeeper DiDi Haracic. Haracic pawed the ball directly into Speck’s path as the midfielder crashed the net, putting necessary pressure on Gotham’s defense. Capitalizing on the deflection, Speck hammered home her first career goal.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Paul [Riley, head coach], as he’s been insistent that the 10s get more involved on the attacking end,” Speck said. “I’d love to see the tape back on the goal, because I feel like my jaw must have dropped to the floor when I saw the ball fall right at my feet. I was ready to celebrate Jess’s goal when she headed it on, but when it fell I was like ‘kick it as hard as you can.’

“The more the team gels, the more we can find space. We’ve had a lot of changes in the midfield, so raising the level of comfort and chemistry between attack and midfield makes it easy for us to get forward as there’s less pressure on us.”

After Speck’s goal, Gotham FC nearly responded  when Delanie Sheehan got a ball on the right flank and saw Nahomi Kawasumi open on the back post. Kawasumi hit a right-footed volley that forced a save by goalkeeper Casey Murphy.

Murphy recorded her sixth shutout of the season.

“That was a good, professional performance away from home. I thought we defended well, and Casey Murphy was excellent again,” Riley said. “I think that having a bit more possession tonight was important in pushing the ball higher up the pitch. We didn’t do a great job keeping them off the ball, but defensively we were solid and that made the difference in the end.”

Added Gotham FC head coach Freya Coombe: “It was a very close competition in terms of possession also in terms of shots on goal, shots on target, etc. Unfortunately, it went their way tonight with that goal. We had a similar situation with McCall Zerboni last week that was called offside. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way with the offside call tonight and that can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.”