The Houston Dash fell to the North Carolina Courage 4-3 this afternoon in a back-and-forth contest that saw four lead changes at Sahlen’s Stadium at Wake Med Soccer Park in the first match for both teams in the Verizon NWSL Community Shield.
Despite going down a player with more than 40 minutes remaining in the contest, the Dash held a 3-2 lead with less than 10 to play thanks to goals from forward Veronica Latsko and midfielders Kristie Mewis and Sophie Schmidt, but the Courage struck twice late to snatch the victory in the dying minutes.
North Carolina took a 1-0 lead on an Abby Dahlkemper penalty kick in the 18th minute. Courage midfielder Debinha raced onto the end of an errant back-pass to get into the penalty area alone, forcing defender Allysha Chapman to slide over in an attempt to break up the chance. Her attempted tackle caught Debinha’s ankle, leading to the penalty kick.
The Dash leveled things in the 25th minute through their own high-pressing effort. Midfielder Shea Groom was quick to pick off a heavy touch from Dahlkemper 30 yards from goal and sprint into the penalty area. She and forward Veronica Latsko were two-on-one with goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, and Groom laid the ball off to Latsko for an easy tap-in.
Groom played creator again in the 37th minute when she set up midfielder Kristie Mewis to give Houston a 2-1 lead. The Dash again put pressure on North Carolina and created a takeaway in the Courage half of the pitch. Groom carried the ball up the middle of the pitch before working a one-two with Mewis that put Mewis into a shooting position from six yards on the left flank. The midfielder rifled a low left-footed shot past Labbé and into the net.
North Carolina equalized in the 52nd minute with a long-range blast from Debinha. The midfielder collected the ball 30 yards from goal, slipped by a defender and blasted a shot into the upper right corner of the net, giving goalkeeper Jane Campbell no chance.
The Dash were reduced to 10 women a minute when Chapman was booked for a second time after colliding with a North Carolina player along the touchline.
Midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who scored the tournament-winning penalty in the NWSL Challenge Cup Final, put the Dash back on top with a world-class strike of her own in the 70th minute. Right back Haley Hanson ignited the play with a long diagonal ball to forward Katie Stengel. The forward brought the ball down off her chest and into the path of Schmidt, who took a touch across the top of the penalty area and crushed a left-footed shot into the upper left corner of the net.
North Carolina equalized again in the 83rd minute through forward Lynn Williams. The striker chipped a shot into the upper left corner of the net with her first touch after forward Rylee Baisden raced into the area and cut the ball back to her.
North Carolina found the winner from midfielder Debinha in the 86th minute off of a corner kick. The initial ball was targeted for forward Lynn Williams but the Dash were able to clear it. The second ball fell to midfielder Meredith Speck, who laid it off to Debinha and the Brazilian laced a right-footed shot from the top of the area into the side netting.
The Verizon NWSL Community Shield is an 18-game series involving all nine teams in the league. The teams are divided into three-team pods, with Houston grouped with North Carolina and the Orlando Pride. Each team will play four matches – home and away against each of the other two teams in their pod – and the team with the highest point total at the conclusion of the series will be declared the winner.
As part of the Community Shield, each of the NWSL’s nine clubs will partner with small businesses or programs in their community, and the team with the most points at the end of the Fall Series will be awarded the Verizon Community Shield and the opportunity to present a grant of $25,000 to their community partner, made possible by Verizon. $15,000 and $10,000 will be presented to the second and third-place teams, respectively.
Houston’s next two matches will be played at BBVA Stadium, as they host Orlando on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. CDT and North Carolina on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. CDT.