Utah Royals forward Brittany Ratcliffe’s shot looked so much like it was going over the goal frame that North Carolina goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland left her hands by her sides.
But the line drive from the top of the box picked up enough backspin to duck under the crossbar and into the net for the last-minute game-winner.
• Brittany Ratcliffe continues to be a thorn in North Carolina’s side, again scoring against the league leaders.
• The Royals claim their second consecutive road victory.
• URFC improves to 2-1-3 on the road.
With that, the Royals handed the Courage their first loss of the season. Utah shut out North Carolina, the most offensively productive team in the NWSL, in a 1-0 win at Sahlen’s Stadium on Saturday.
Royals midfielder Diana Matheson’s free kick set up Ratcliffe for the goal, her second of the year and second against North Carolina. The players in front of Ratcliffe fought for a header, both missing, but Ratcliffe won the second ball. It squirted out from a scrum of players and Ratcliffe slid after it, tapping the ball out from under Courage defender Jaelene Hinkle’s feet. Ratcliffe popped right back up and delivered the only goal of the match.
Ratcliffe had been in the match for 17 minutes at that point. She was coach Laura Harvey’s second sub of the evening, replacing midfielder Katrina Gorry.
North Carolina leads the league with 24 goals, but on Saturday Utah Royals goalkeeper Abby Smith made four saves to help the Royals kept their fifth clean sheet of the season.
North Carolina logged its first shot on goal in the 32nd minute. One-two passing between McCall Zerboni and Jessica McDonald opened up space for McDonald in the right side of the box. She cut a shot back to her left, but Smith pulled in the catch.
The Courage tested Smith again 12 minutes later. McDonald popped a header up in front of the goal, and North Carolina’s Abby Erceg came sprinting in from the right side to try to head it home. Smith, mindful of her goal line, launched herself vertically and snatched the ball out of the air, just above Erceg’s head.
The Courage took five shots in the first half, same as the Royals. However, in the second half, North Carolina pushed for 10 shots, limiting the Royals to just three.
In addition to heroics by Smith, the Royals benefitted from a pair of saves by the goalframe. The Courage pinged two shots off the crossbar after the intermission, the first struck by Crystal Dunn in the 64th minute and the second by Denise O’Sullivan in the 70th minute.