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NC Courage vs Utah Royals FC: Previewing the first meeting

Seeking a fifth-straight win

Jess McDonald celebrates after scoring the go-ahead goal in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory.
Andy Mead/isiphotos.com

The NC Courage prevailed on Wednesday night in their third 1-0 home win of the season. It was a frustrating game for the Courage faithful as shot after shot was denied by either the Seattle goalkeeper Michelle Betos or their home woodwork. It took until the 70th minute for Jess McDonald to finally slot one past the embattled keeper, but the Courage were nonetheless victorious again. North Carolina has now started both of their seasons with four straight wins. It is now up to the 2018 iteration to build upon their predecessors by winning the fifth game where their fore bearers failed.

Scouting the new-look Royals

In an interesting twist of fate, the Courage will face off against the other half of the coaching-flip in consecutive games. Utah’s head coach, Laura Harvey, left Seattle in the offseason and joined the newly-minted Utah Royals FC after Kansas City FC folded. Vlatko Andonovski moved from FCKC to Seattle to complete the unofficial “trade.”‘

Whereas Seattle started their season in a superb fashion, the Royals have been underwhelming in their opening three games of existence. With a record of 0W-2D-1L, URFC has been unable to find their offensive form this season. They have scored just one goal on the season, and that first goal came in the 3rd minute of their opening match when Icelandic national Gunny Jonsdottir stretched out and popped the ball past Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. The ensuing 267 minutes have netted zero goals for the Royals, but it isn't for a lack of trying. Utah has generated 25 shots and 9 shots on goal. Certainly nothing compared to the 60 shots with 25 on goal that the Courage have generated, but also not at the very bottom of the league.

The Royals have reason to be hopeful. In their last match, forward Amy Rodriguez made her first appearance on the pitch since she tore her ACL in the opening match of the 2017 season. She might be the final missing asset, as she is one of the most consistent scorers in NWSL history. The addition of Jonsdottir paid dividends immediately, and once the team builds a good offensive chemistry they might be able to score enough to augment their excellent defense.

While nobody has successfully slowed down the Courage in 2018, Utah might have the right set of circumstances to do so on Saturday. First, the Courage will be playing their third match in seven days while the Royals had a normal week with no midweek game. Utah also boasts an excellent defense, anchored by USWNT defensive stars Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara. Their goalkeepers, Abby Smith and Nicole Barnhart, are also at or above the league average, and either one can keep the game competitive for Utah.

Courage happenings and lineup

On Wednesday I tried to get into Paul Riley’s brain and failed impressively by missing the only change that he actually made and fancifully suggesting all sorts of mix-ups that never came. In an absolutely shocking move, Kaleigh Kurtz started at center back next to Abby Erceg in place for Abby Dahlkemper. Wednesday’s match ended a streak of 65 consecutive games that Dahlkemper both started and finished for the North Carolina Courage and Western New York Flash before them. The removal of Dahlkemper is a mystery, and she was not listed on the injury report for that game or for tomorrow. This time I’ll be proven wrong by suggesting a perfectly reasonable lineup.

The only differences between this lineup and the one that came out to open the match on Wednesday is that Denise O’Sullivan gets a break for Mewis to get the start while Kurtz goes back to the bench and Dahlkemper starts working on a new streak. The first change is relatively bold. O’Sullivan plays a very unique position for the team, and it could be Hamilton that makes way for Mewis instead. Alternately, it’s entirely possible that Mewis is not yet ready to play a starting role and that my lineup changes were completely wrong. The Courage have an absolute embarassment of riches across their team, and the problem will only get worst when Debinha returns from Brazil.

The Courage have already pulled out to a five-point lead in the standings, and a win on Saturday is the type of result you expect from a team vying to win the championship this season.

How to watch

Kickoff: 3:55 pm ET - pregame starts at 3:30 on LifeTime