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Roadblock: North Carolina Courage 1, Angel City FC 0

Angels hit setback in big six-pointer.

NWSL: Angel City FC at North Carolina Courage Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

CARY, North Carolina — Angel City FC’s quest to get above the playoff line in the NWSL hit a roadblock on Wednesday, as their important six-pointer against the North Carolina Courage ended with a 1-0 Courage win at WakeMed Soccer Stadium.

With both teams battling to get above the playoff line, Angel City’s five-game unbeaten run was snapped with the loss, and it also means North Carolina are a mere point behind ACFC in the standings, with both teams still looking to climb into the playoff places, and Angel City no longer hold a game in hand on most of the teams around them.

The game got off to a hot start, with North Carolina attacker Kerolin on a one-person counterattack that led to a shot, only for a timely deflection from an Angel City defender keeping her from scoring in the opening two minutes.

Angel City and Claire Emslie then had a breakaway chance of their own after a ball over the top from the defense, but Emslie’s shot in the 9th minute was saved by Courage GK Casey Murphy.

Angel City had a penalty appeal in the 18th minute, when Brianna Pinto and Savannah McCaskill got tangled up in the Courage box, but the referee waived it off.

North Carolina had a great look in the 26th minute, when off a recirculated corner kick, Denise O’Sullivan had a clean one-timer, but DiDi Haracič made a save to keep the game scoreless. Moments later, off another corner, Diana Ordoñez’s one-touch attempt right in front of goal somehow sailed just over the target, saving ACFC’s blushes.

Jun Endo then had a great shot of her own in the 43rd minute, but Murphy was up for it and made the block. On the other end, Ordoñez nearly had the score for the Courage, but Angel City defenders made just enough of a double stop on it right in front of the net to stymie the hosts. They went into the break even and scoreless, with both goalkeepers putting in standout first halves.

Angel City made two changes to kick off the 2nd half, bringing in Simone Charley and Jasmyne Spencer for Emslie and Tyler Lussi, respectively.

Endo nearly scored in the 48th minute after a terrific build-up from Angel City, but her shot pulled just wide.

But it was North Carolina who had the breakthrough, as Kerolin scored in the 54th minute on a tap-in from Debinha to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

Angel City’s next change came in the 73rd minute, when Miri Taylor replaced Ali Riley, with ACFC chasing the game and looking for more offense.

The teams settled into opposing game states, Angel City trying to push for an equalizer and North Carolina adding a defender to see out the win. Charley had a penalty shout in the 81st minute, but again, the referee would not hear it and there was no whistle. The final Angel City substitution of the night was in the 85th minute, with Lily Nabet replacing Dani Weatherholt in the midfield.

With the standings remaining on a razor’s edge, the loss stings mightily for Angel City, who really played well enough but didn’t have enough good looks in attack to really punish North Carolina. Still, this was a pretty even game and ACFC probably deserved a point, but it wasn’t meant to be. What’s worse, Angel City could have effectively knocked out North Carolina in the playoff race with a win, but the loss means they have renewed competition for the postseason. For the neutrals, it’s exciting. For the fans, it’s nerve-shredding.

Angel City have another short turnaround, as they will head home before taking on San Diego Wave FC on Saturday at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego. It will be the permanent home opener for San Diego, a historic occasion for the league, and ACFC will look to play spoilers as they also look for three points to stay in the playoff race. It should be a big game!

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