The NC Courage remain perfect in 2018. So far the season has been an amazing story of the team winning games and gutting out draws to the tune of a 9-2-0 record and 29 points in 2018. While the team has had some impressive performances over that stretch, their midweek trip to Portland may have been the best so far. After an evenly matched first half, the Courage came out in the second half and scored three goals against a very good Thorns team. The chances the team had been creating all season finally seemed to pay off with the ball finding the back of the net and North Carolina dominating to win the game 4-1. This week will pose a completely different challenge for NC as they travel to Houston to face the Dash.
Dash getting back on track
While it may take a while to catch the team in first place in the NWSL, the final three playoff places are definitely up for grabs. Only six points separate the teams from 7th to 2nd place in the league. Sitting right in the middle of that is the Houston Dash with 13 points in 11 games. Houston struggled early in the year going winless in their first five games. However, over their last six matches, the Dash have three wins, a loss, and two draws. It has been a promising turn around that includes a win against the Seattle Reign.
If there’s a reason for the turn around it is pretty simple, goals. In their first five matches, Houston only managed a single goal, over their last six they have 11. The team is being led by Rachel Daly and a finally healthy again Kealia Ohai. One setback for the team though will be the loss of Kristie Mewis, who was injured against the Washington Spirit and will miss the rest of the season, will be a big loss for the team. However, Mewis will be the only player missing for the squad as they will otherwise be at full strength for the match.
New and missing faces
With US Women’s National Team camp opening ahead of the match against the Dash, North Carolina will be missing Abby Dahlkemper, Merritt Mathias, Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis and McCall Zerboni. Denise O’Sullivan will also be with the Irish National team. Those are six key players and missing half of your lineup is never a good thing. As far as how the Courage will replace them, the team signed four National Team Replacement players defenders Morgan Reid and Ryan Williams, midfielder Sarah Teegarden and forward Frannie Crouse joining the team for the match. Additionally, defender Yuri Kawamura has returned from her injury and is now back on the roster.
Kawamura had been a regular starter for Paul Riley before getting injured last season. Riley even lined her up alongside Dahlkemper and Abby Erceg in a three center back formation, but with Dahlkemper with the USWNT and the team on such a hot streak, he may not be eager to try that again. Additionally, the Kawamura may not be fully match fit, so her role may be restricted to the bench for now. So, what should we expect out of the Courage this weekend?
Personnel-wise it will be difficult to say. There’s some idea of what Paul Riley may do, but this may be a difficult game for the Courage to implement their pressing, high-energy style. Aside from fielding a team that will showcase depth, it is going to be hot in Houston. Even though the game will kickoff at 7PM, the high temperature will be at 97 degrees and it could very well be in the 90s at gametime. The heat and reliance on depth may also cause Riley to go to his bench early to keep his players on the field fresh as the Courage try to stay undefeated on the year.
A wrong lineup that the Courage could play
As for subs, I think Paul Riley will go to the bench early in the Houston heat. With Yuri Kawamura healthy and in need of game time, she could make an appearance off of the bench possibly for one of the outside defenders, or even as a part of a tactical change with Riley moving to a three center back formation. This may also be a game for 10th overall draft pick Frannie Crouse to make an appearance or even start in place of Darian Jenkins up top.
How to watch
Kickoff - 7:00PM Sunday, June 3 - streaming at go90.com and on the go90 app.