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Five key matches for the NC Courage in 2018

The NWSL Shield winners have a difficult road to a repeat

The NWSL schedule was released on Tuesday. It features 24 matches and with 9 teams which gives each team a chance to face every side in the league three times. Given that there are an odd number of teams, the Courage will find themselves with a few bye weeks during the year also. The full schedule can be found here and the Courage slate of games on their website.

March 24, 2018: NC Courage vs. Portland Thorns. The Courage will have a chance to get some measure of revenge against the team that beat them in the NWSL Championship to end 2017. No championship is won or lost in the first week of the season, but getting a win at home against the NWSL Champs will go a long way in setting the tone for the season. The game will be a matchup that will showcase the two best defenses in the league from 2017 as Lynn Williams will take on a Thorns team that allowed just 20 goals in 24 games.

May 12, 2018: NC Courage vs. Washington Spirit. After last year it wasn’t clear what Washington would do, but it was clear that they needed to do a lot to be competitive in the league. Washington brought in former Courage players Taylor Smith at right back and Ashley Hatch at forward. In addition, they landed Rose Lavelle in the Breakers dispersal draft. Mallory Pugh has a year in the league under her belt and they drafted highly touted midfielder Andi Sullivan. Getting a win at home against a team that figures to be better, if not contending for a playoff spot will be critical - especially before the long road trip the team will endure.

May 19th - June 30, 2018: OK, I cheated. North Carolina will have a massive stretch of road games though doing this time. 6 of 7 games in those weeks will be played on the road. The team was very good on the road last year, with a 7-1-4 record. If they hope to repeat as NWSL Shield winners, and even make the playoffs, this could be a crucial set of matches that determine their place in the NWSL table.

July 4, 2018: NC Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars. Chicago posed real problems for the Courage last year, beating them all three times they faced off last year. Of course the Red Stars fell to the Courage in the playoffs and the losses didn’t hinder ability to win NWSL Shield.

August 25, 2018: NC Courage at Seattle Reign. This is the second to last match of the season for the Courage and the team will be hoping to lock down their spot in the playoffs, or even win the NWSL Shield again. It will be no easy task as the Reign have made some major roster changes after missing out on the playoffs last year and saying goodbye to coach Laura Harvey. Steph Catley was one of the best outside backs in the league last year and should add both an attacking and defending improvement to the team.

The year will prove to be interesting for the Courage. The road trip in the middle of the year will obviously be a big test, but they return a strong roster that should challenge for a playoff spot and beyond in 2018.