Last Sunday proved to be a frustrating affair at Sahlen’s Stadium as the North Carolina Courage fought tooth and nail but were unable to do better than a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Red Stars. Through seven matches the Courage are still are still undefeated, but they have already had more draws (2) than they did through the entirety of 2017 (1). The pair of draws have put a damper on the last two home matches, but hopefully things will turn around when Washington comes to town. The week got started in an interesting fashion when the Courage traded Alysha Chapman to the Houston Dash.
Spirit in a slump
The Washington Spirit were feeling fine after winning their second match of the season over the depleted Orlando Pride. In fact, their third match of the season started out like a dream when they scored an opening goal in the third minute of their home match against the Courage. Unfortunately for Washington - and fortunately for the Courage - that was when the wheels fell off. The Spirit defense fell apart in that game, conceding four goals to North Carolina and losing the match.
The Spirit followed up that disappointing game with a pair of “psychological victories.” They earned a draw on the road against the Portland Thorns FC before returning home to earn a draw against Chicago. Neither of the matches were wins, but Washington was feeling like they could hang with the best teams in the league. Then they traveled to Utah where they were manhandled by Utah Royals FC to the tune of a 2-0 loss. It was Utah’s first win of the season and Washington’s first shutout.
Right now the troubles for Washington lie mostly in the defense and midfield. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe has earned more saves than any other goalkeeper in the league while the team has also conceded more goals per game than any other team. That means that Spirit opponents are finding lots of open space to take good shots, and while Bledsoe is performing admirably she can’t save every shot. The defense has been an open sieve, which is problematic when facing the top offense in the NWSL.
The midfield for the Spirit has fared little better. USWNT midfielder and top-overall selection in the 2018 NWSL Draft, Andi Sullivan, has looked like a traditional rookie. Without her looming as a dominant presence, the rest of the midfield is pedestrian, and it forces forwards Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, and Franny Ordega to drop too deep. Washington just doesn’t feel like a cohesive team right now.
Lining up the Courage
Courage head coach Paul Riley finally came out with a new lineup on Sunday as Sam Mewis got her first start on the season (yay!). Unfortunately, the Courage felt a little out of sorts until the lineup reverted back to the one that was used for the first six matches of the season with Kristen Hamilton and Jess McDonald on the pitch. I think Riley will continue to experiment and play with a more defensive lineup against the Spirit.
With just one game of healthy Mewis back in the lineup, it is extremely hard to decide which direction Riley wants to go. Obviously, this formation lacks two of the best goal-scoring threats that the Courage possess in McDonald and Debinha, but I feel like that kind of offensive firepower isn’t as important against a porous Washington defense. I love having Hamilton on the pitch, I think she brings a special creativity and spacing to the team, but you definitely give something up when you take McDonald’s long throw off the field. While this isn’t the most exciting lineup, it is one that should be able to easily secure a 2-0 scoreline by the time the final whistle blows. As usual, this lineup could be completely erroneous...I’m particularly good at not being able to read Paul Riley’s mind.
How to watch
The best way to watch is at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, NC. Tickets are cheap and you can see the players up close.
If you can’t make the game it will be broadcast free on www.go90.com and the go90 app at 7:00 pm ET on Saturday, May 12.