The NC Courage got off to a good start last weekend beating the Portland Thorns 1-0. The game featured typical defensive solidity while the attack was a little bit lacking - especially the vaunted Final Ball. North Carolina managed 20 shots in the game with just three on goal. As the season wears on and the team continues to gel with Crystal Dunn added to the mix, more of those shots will find their way on goal and into the net.
Scouting Sky Blue
The offseason saw a lot of changes with Sky Blue leading up to 2018. The team has a new manager with Denise Reddy taking over for the team’s assistants who ran things once Christy Holly parted ways with the club at the end of the summer. In addition, the team traded Sam Kerr to Chicago in the deal that should have sent Christen Press to Houston - she is of course headed to Sweden - but Carli Lloyd went to New Jersey all the same. Replacing an MVP won’t be easy, but she isn’t the only change on the roster.
Peachtree City’s Kelley O’Hara went to Salt Lake City along with Taylor Layte for Shea Groom and Christina Gibbons. In fact, almost half the roster turned over in a complete rebuild of a team that just missed the playoffs by six points last year. Brazilian national team midfielder Thaisa Moreno and recently capped USWNT forward Savannah McCaskill also joined the team.
The attack for this team should be very cohesive and fluid. McCaskill was the best player in the NWSL draft and she could form a formidable strike partnership with Jen Hoy. Shea Groom may fight for a starting spot going forward as well, but she is the typical ‘kind of player you want on your team’ because she can get under her opponents’ skin. Carli Lloyd may be beyond her prime, but is still a capable passer and play maker. Central midfielder Rocky Rodriguez is one of the best players outside of the US in Concacaf. The defense will be an issue for Sky Blue though, but keeper Caroline Casey is one an underrated netminder in NWSL.
It’s difficult to say what kind of style the team will try to play. But the team will have a clear task at containing the Courage attack, breaking the press, and getting past the tough North Carolina defense.
Lineup and Checking in with the Courage
Coach Paul Riley is the most difficult manager to figure a line up for - he busted out a 4-4-2 diamond last weekend, so I’m probably wrong.
The team largely stays the same with Katelyn Rowland getting the start for Sabrina D’Angelo, who struggled at times in goal last weekend and was also benched in 2017. With Debinha away with the Brazil national team as they prepare for the Copa America Femenina, I expect Kristen Hamilton will be stepping in but will start on the wing and Denise O’Sullivan will take over in the no. 10 role.
At this point, it seems that what the Courage will try to do is press their opponent, stay cohesive in defense and let Crystal Dunn make timely runs and pick teams apart with her passing to forwards Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald. With Sky Blue still working in their new pieces and trying to gel, North Carolina should be able to take another three points at home in week two.
How to watch
Kickoff: Saturday 3:00PM - WakeMed Soccer Park - Streaming on www.go90.com