Jessica McDonald, Debhina Lead North Carolina Courage Past Washington Spirit

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Jessica McDonald

CARY, NORTH CAROLINA (July 11, 2018) — It didn’t take long for Heather O’Reilly to make her North Carolina Courage debut.

The veteran midfielder, who recently completed a move from Arsenal Ladies to the first-place Courage, starred as a left-back in Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory against the Washington Spirit.

Jessica McDonald, Debhina Lead North Carolina Past Washington Spirit

O’Reilly filled in for Jaelene Hinkle, who was listed as out with a left quad strain.

In her Courage debut at WakeMed Soccer Park – in front of 3,409 fans – O’Reilly focused on defense. She did not take a single shot or record any assists.

Instead, her job was to hold off Washington’s hungry, young, attackers like Ashley Hatch, Estefanía Banini, and Andi Sullivan. “HAO” did her job, as did Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, and Merritt Mathias, keeping Washington scoreless.

Behind the defense, Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland was forced to make four saves against Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty-Howard, Taylor Smith, and Hatch.

Meanwhile, the Courage had better luck getting past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Debinha scored the opening tally in the 12th minute. Jessica McDonald scored North Carolina’s game-winning goal in the 60th minute.

While Debinha’s goal was unassisted, Crystal Dunn picked up the assist on McDonald’s goal.

Bledsoe also made four saves, denying opportunities from Denise O’Sullivan, Lynn Williams, Kristen Hamilton, and Dunn.

After the match, Courage Head Coach Paul Riley called the game a “good professional performance.”

“I wouldn’t say it was our best performance,” Riley said. “It was also 95 degrees out there – it was hot, man. So that obviously hurt us a little bit, especially in the first half. We settled down a bit when it got cooler in the second half. Yeah, I’m happy.”

“The result is the result.”

Meanwhile, McDonald said the team has a “target” on their back, as the team to beat.

“At the end of the day, it is kind of nice to have that pressure and be able to act on the field in a professional manner the way we have during this process,” McDonald said. “It’s pretty amazing to see us improve each game.”

Three Takeaways

  1. Rose Lavelle returns: While O’Reilly made her debut for North Carolina, Rose Lavelle made her return for Washington. The midfielder was out for the last month after an injury sent her back to the sidelines.
  2. Will Jaelene Hinkle lose her spot? It was different to see O’Reilly as a defender, given her rap sheet as a defensive midfielder. However, it wasn’t too far-fetched. Paul Riley has an unbelievable amount of depth throughout his entire roster, but his midfield and attack are loaded. Giving O’Reilly some space at left back is a win for the club. It’s unlikely he’ll bench someone like McCall Zerboni for O’Reilly.
  3. The seat is getting hotter: Jim Gabarra excited Washington Spirit fans with the arrivals of Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Andi Sullivan and last year’s rookie of the year, Ashley Hatch. However, his system isn’t working. It’s not a lack of a talent or a sophomore slump. It seems that Gabarra tailors his lineup and formation around the U.S. Women’s National Team stars, but should be tailoring it for Hatch.

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