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NC Courage vs. Sky Blue FC: Match preview

The Courage look to pull away from the pack

After beating the Boston Breakers in Cambridge last weekend, the Courage are a full four points clear at the top of the NWSL table. This means that no matter what the team will have been in first place for the entire first half of the season as no team can pass them regardless of the result this weekend.

To gain even more in the table, the Courage will have to overcome a Sky Blue FC team that has had some uneven performances as of late but can surprise the most talented teams in the league. Sky Blue fell to the Orlando Pride on Wednesday night 3-2. The New Jersey team will feel like they could have gotten more for the match having missed a first half penalty and gave up the third goal to the Pride in the 86th minute.

North Carolina is coming into the game with a full week’s rest off of a 1-0 win against Boston. The Breakers were overwhelmed by the Courage and never managed to earn serious chances at home. To their opponents’ credit, North Carolina managed just one goal and had a difficult time breaking down Boston.

What to watch for

The Courage certainly missed Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald last weekend but the depth of the team carried them to a valuable away victory. North Carolina should have Williams back while McDonald seems to still be recovering. The rest of the team should be healthy and Ashley Hatch has shown that she is ready for professional soccer in her first year in the NWSL.

Sky Blue allowed three goals to Orlando and NC should have plenty of chances to press, force turnovers, and counter this weekend. The New Jersey side likes to open things up and will try to build out of the back and work possession to create chances. Sam Kerr is settling into her role as a striker and netted a bicycle kick last weekend against the Pride.

The team is sitting 5th in the table and that seems about right. Raquel Rodriguez and Sarah Killion have helped solidify the center of the pitch but the team struggles at shutting down opponents. They have improved significantly since last year when it seemed like the entire attack was through right back Kelley O’Hara.

That said, the team has given up the second most goals in the league. While Sky Blue have scored 18 goals, good for second most in NWSL, the Courage have just allowed 11 goals and nine were in three games. North Carolina has only allowed one goal in their last three games and have become very tough on defense. Sky Blue has improved their attack, but if they can’t keep the Courage out of the net and have to chase the game, North Carolina could put the game out of reach and things could get ugly for the away team.

Lineup prediction

Coach Paul Riley seems to have settled on a 4-4-2 as of late but a change at keeper has Katelyn Rowland starting ahead of Sabrina D’Angelo.

Other notes

As if there was any doubt at the talent Ashley Hatch has, the rookie made the team of the month along with Sam Mewis, and Abby Dahlkemper.

How to watch

Kickoff: 3:30PM Lifetime Network