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NC Courage vs. Sky Blue FC: Match preview

Get ready for NWSL midweek action

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Well the NC Courage are officially in a funk after starting the on a four game win streak the team has dropped their last two games by a score of 3-1. There weren’t a lot of good things to draw from the loss to the Chicago Red Stars. The Courage were down by three at the half and despite tactical changes after 45 minutes they could only muster one goal and lost for the second straight week. Though the team played better in the second half, with Lynn Williams scoring a goal, the Red Stars were content to manage their big lead on the road and NC failed to break through for more.

Before the match I famously said that I doubted a goal explosion was in the works for Chicago and that proved not to be the case. Christen Press had a player of the week caliber performance by drawing a penalty, converting her chance from the spot, and setting up Sofia Huerta for her goal. Speaking of Huerta, she got goal of the week so one thing the Courage managed was to make the Red Stars shine in the match.

The starting 11 partly explains why the team struggled so much. Jess McDonald was starting as a third center back due to the suspension of Abby Erceg and it just didn’t work playing a forward in that position. Coach Paul Riley acknowledged as much by bringing in subs Ashley Hatch for Makenzy Doniak and Taylor Smith for Rosana. McDonald’s struggles in defense were only part of the problem with the team also failing to control the midfield until Chicago had the game well under control.

A tough midweek game

Midweek games are difficult in no small part because the rigors of playing two games in a short period of time mean that managers feel the need to rotate players, there is less time to prepare for the opponent, and teams must handle traveling long distances with little time to recover. While North Carolina is home this week, their opponent is on a hot streak. Sky Blue FC has won their two past games, interestingly both against the Houston Dash, and will be coming to Cary having scored eight goals in their past three games.

Two key players for the New Jersey team are midfielders Sarah Killion and Raquel Rodriguez. Killion leads the league in goals with five, though that total includes four penalties, and Rodriguez scored the game winner last weekend against Houston. The two players help lead a Sky Blue attack that has settled into a threatening group that is always looking to move forward and create chances on goal. Forward, and Peachtree City native, Kelley O’Hara missed the game and it is unclear if she will return on Wednesday, but the team was still successful without the USWNT starter.

Despite losing two games in a row, the Courage are still on top in the table but Sky Blue has come alive as of late and their win streak has them sitting two points behind North Carolina for second place. In order to stay at the top of the table, the team will need to regain its defensive form and find some balance in midfield. Whether Riley decides to play more direct or possession isn’t as important as adjusting if one or the other isn’t working so that their opposition doesn’t dictate the game the way Chicago was able to on Sunday.

Lineup Prediction

Last week Paul Riley showed why lineup predictions offer such a unique opportunity to be wrong by starting Jess McDonald at center back. That said, I doubt he’ll do it again and with the team set to play Chicago this weekend in the windy suburb, I think he’ll play a close to full starting lineup.

With Hinkle still returning from injury, I think Smith gets the nod at left wingback. Otherwise I would not be surprised to see either Williams or McDonald get a break for rookie Ashley Hatch to get her first start. Another shakeup may be starting Rosana or Sam Witteman for Zerboni or Mewis. On the other hand, Riley may dream up something crazy and trot out a 2-3-1-4.

Quick Note: International call ups

Debinha will join Marta, Andressa, Camila, and Monica when Brazil plays Spain and Iceland in the second week of June for a set of international friendlies.

How to watch:

Time: 7:30 PM Wednesday May 24, 2017

Location: WakeMed Park Cary, North Carolina

Stream: Go90.com and NWSLSoccer.com