The NC Courage are 3-0-0 to begin the young season. The have shown the league that they are comfortable playing with a target on their backs after winning the NWSL Championship last season. North Carolina has been very effective in the past two games after a win in a difficult game to start the season against Washington. Sunday, the team will take on the Boston Breakers which sets up an unlikely one vs. two face off. Boston was the worst team in the league last year but made significant changes and announced that their turn around was taking no prisoners last weekend.
In probably the biggest surprise of the season so far, the opponent the Courage faces this weekend took down the Seattle Reign. The Boston Breakers won their first match ever against the Pacific Northwest team by being compact on defense, more than a little physical, and punishing Seattle for their mistakes. The Reign were coming off of a 5-1 smashing of the Houston Dash but found themselves down 2-0 by the 15th minute mark and were up 3-0 before the hour mark. Seattle was barely in the game and looked a little flat, but give Boston all the credit for imposing themselves on the game and being the only Boston team over the weekend to hold a 3-0 lead against a side from Seattle.
Watching the waves
This match will provide an interesting challenge for the Courage. Though they faced a defensively minded opponent in week one against the Washington Spirit, their opponent that week had little to offer going forward. Boston is a different story. The Breakers did more than bunker and counter in their last game. They pressed the Reign anytime a player in highlighter yellow crossed the center line into the Breakers’ half and were lethal in transition jumping all over their chances in front of goal.
The players to watch for Boston are NWSL Player of the Month Rose Lavelle holding down the central midfield spot for the team and forward Adriana Leon who had two assists against Seattle. Lavelle was much hyped coming out of Wisconsin and made her national team debut in March. After a season to forget last year, Lavelle has been a key factor in Boston going from a seemingly cautionary tale of how not to run a NWSL team to a side that looks like they should compete for a playoff spot.
It will be interesting to see how coach Paul Riley has his team play in this match. In the game against Washington, the Spirit conceded much of the possession and the Courage set to breaking them down. Versus Portland, North Carolina wanted nothing to do with the ball choosing to focus on pressing the life out of the Thorns and quickly countering. Last week they simply dominated the Pride in all facets of the game and rolled to a 3-1 win.
After having so much success with it last week, it would be surprising to see Boston not come out and aggressively press the Courage. If they are as effective at it this week, North Carolina will have to figure out how to break the team down. One option would be playing route one soccer and seeing if Debinha, Lynn Williams, and Jess McDonald can’t get in behind the Breakers’ backline. If the Breakers sit back and decide to try to absorb pressure
Another thing to watch is who scores first. North Carolina hasn’t conceded first this season and will be facing a Breakers team who jumped all over Seattle early and never let up. If Boston manages to score first in this match, it may play into the hands of the Courage. The Breakers were relentless at going for goal the entire match and even with the lead were looking to add to their tally. NC has shown that it is not opposed to playing a countering style of play and could find open space behind the Boston backline if they find themselves trailing.
Jaelene Hinkle picked up a hip injury in the last game and is listed as out for this weekend. This should not cause coach Riley to change from a 3-5-2 formation but who replaces her as the left wingback may be less certain. Brazilian newcomer Rosana or Taylor Smith who played in both post season games in 2016.
This will look familiar, but the starting 11 should be Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, and Yuri Kawamura in the three center back backline; Taylor Smith, McCall Zerboni, Sam Mewis, Debinha, Makenzy Doniak playing midfield; Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald causing havoc against the Breakers defenders leading the line.
How to watch
Streaming live on the Go90 website and app at 6:00PM Sunday May 7, 2017.