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NC Courage at Portland Thorns: Match preview

A chance to steal some points on the road

The North Carolina Courage are still in first place after coming away with a well earned 2-0 victory against the Seattle Reign last weekend. At this point in the season, the teams at the top of the table are starting to pull away from those at the bottom. The Courage seem to be in firm control of making the playoffs and a solid win against a dangerous team like Seattle shows that they are the class of the league.

Meanwhile, Portland is at risk of falling further down the table. Since an undefeated six game stretch from April 29 to June 3 when the team earned 12 points, the Thorns have just four points off of a win and a draw out of the last 5 games. Currently, they sit in 5th in the NWSL table outside of the playoff spots. A loss in the match doesn’t sink their chances with 10 games still to play after Saturday, but it does push them further toward the Orlando Prides and Houston Dashes of the world.

What to watch for

The Courage rebounded nicely against the Reign after losing a disappointing match to Sky Blue FC on July 1st. The team largely controlled the midfield and marked Megan Rapinoe out of the game. On attack they created chance after chance while the defense smothered the Seattle forays forward.

The central midfield has been especially dominant for the Courage. Coach Paul Riley tweeted out McCall Zerboni and she was everywhere - I think one of the dots is her buying a Sahlen's hot dog from a vendor at the match.

The Portland Thorns will present a different type of challenge for the Courage though. The Thorns have one of the best defenses in the league only allowing 12 goals through 13 games. That includes just five goals scored against in six home games and three clean sheets. Providence Park will add to the home field advantage that Portland holds and the team will look to turn things around with the next three matches at home for the struggling side. That said, the Thorns can be beaten at home and have allowed two and three goals in the home games they did concede in.

Although the defense has been stout for Portland, going forward has been completely different. The team has just 16 goals in 13 matches and has struggled to find a rhythm going forward. Tobin Heath being absent from the team definitely helps explain this, but the Thorns have struggled at linking the midfield and forwards to generate chances, hold possession, and play cohesively in attack. Making things worse for Portland, the departure of Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, Amandine Henry, and Nadia Nadim for Euro 2017 take away three powerful weapons for the team this weekend.

The Courage should look at this game as one they can take away a point from and have a chance to pull out a road win to keep their place alone atop the NWSL table. If the team can minimize mistakes, turn possession into chances the way they did last weekend, and punish the Thorns’ errors, they should find themselves with a favorable result against another Cascadia opponent.

Lineup prediction

Paul Riley is tactically adaptable but the 4-4-2 seems to be what he prefers with his current roster. That said, the team played very well last weekend with Debinha locked in at attacking midfield helping to create several chances. With Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald closer and closer to being fully match fit, it will remain to be seen if he sticks with his in form rookie Hatch or brings back the terrifying tandem of Williams and McDonald assuming they are healthy.

How to watch

This is the game of the week on Lifetime so catch it there starting at 3:30PM.