On Saturday the North Carolina Courage traveled to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC. The team had a chance to clinch the top spot in NWSL for the 2017 season with a win, but they ended the match with their first draw of the season. The match seemed like it was fitting what is becoming a familiar script for the Courage this year. A goal scored by rookie Ashley Hatch in the 27th minute assisted by Sam Mewis gave NC an early lead.
From there the Courage largely ceded possession and picked their spots going forward. They looked like they were on the way to seeing the match out until the 75th minute when Carolina keeper Katelyn Rowland came out to clear a ball cycled back into the box after a free kick. She misjudged the play and left an empty net for Costa Rica international Raquel Rodriguez to draw the game even. The match ended with the score even at one although the Courage had a late chance to go ahead in the 86th minute.
North Carolina will have another chance to lock down the NWSL Shield tonight against the Houston Dash. For their part, Houston is coming off of a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday. The scoreline does not reflect the match and is somewhat flattering to Houston. Chicago jumped out to a 3-1 lead by half time and the second goal for the Dash came in the 85th minute. Still the second goal showed that Kristie Mewis should be a valuable asset to the team as she smashed a cross to forward Rachel Daly who connected with a diving header.
What to watch for
Things aren’t quite interesting in the NWSL table but there are getting close to being interesting. The Courage can clinch the NWSL Shield with a win. A draw puts them three points ahead of Portland, who must then win their final game of the year, but they need the Courage to lose their match this weekend. This scenario puts the teams even on points with the first tiebreaker being their head to head record. Since each side has a win in their two matchups this year, the second tiebreaker is goal differential which Portland currently holds a +2 edge over.
With North Carolina controlling their own destiny, the team will have the option of going for clinching the Shield tonight or waiting until Saturday at home against Orlando. On short rest and with the playoffs approaching, coach Paul Riley will have to weigh playing his best players with winning the Shield and being rested for the playoffs. It is no doubt a difficult choice and it is made more difficult by the fact that the team is playing on two full days rest and has traveled from Houston after an away game in New Jersey.
Houston has struggled all season, but as they showed against the Red Stars, they have players who are dangerous going forward. With just two points needed to secure the top seed in the NWSL playoffs, Riley could look to contain the Houston attack and catch them in transition rather than play for a shoot out.
Goalkeeper: Katelyn Rowland; Defenders: Jaelene Hinkle, Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, Samantha Witteman; Central Midfield: Sam Mewis, Makenzie Doniak; Wingers/Attacking Midfield: Debinha, Denise O’Sullivan, Kristen Hamilton; Forward: Jess McDonald
Riley has seldom rotated his central defensive paring but there could be some changes with the outside defenders. Jess McDonald didn’t make the trip to New Jersey and should feature in the match at Houston. All of this assumes that Riley isn’t resting his players and will try an clinch the Shield with a win before the weekend.
How to watch: