What an amazing run the North Carolina Courage are on! 4-1, 3-0, and 4-1 in consecutive games just isn’t something that happens in the NWSL, but don’t tell that to Paul Riley and the best team in the league.
On Wednesday night the Courage will play at home against the Washington Spirit in a battle between two teams trending in opposite directions. The Courage are looking to extend their three-game winning streak that started after they suffered their first loss of the season in a heartbreaking fashion to Utah Royals FC. The Spirit are looking to snap a seven-game winless streak.
What to expect from Washington
If I’m being cheeky...not a lot.
Washington has a few solid offensive weapons. Forward Ashley Hatch, who was traded from North Carolina to Washington during the offseason, is one of those weapons, but she hasn’t developed the skills to create her own chances yet. Hatch requires some level of team effort to score. Franny Ordega has the speed and finishing skills to put the ball into the back of the net, but she suffered a head injury in the match against Orlando and might not be available. The best option out of the midfield is Argentinian Estefania Banini. She is Washington’s most dangerous option because of her ability to collect the ball in the attacking third and create a solid shot, but she has been hindered by injuries and isn’t 90-minute fit.
The Washington midfield is a few years away from being dominant. Rookies Andi Sullivan (first-overall) and Rebecca Quinn (third-overall) have not been able to transition into the professional game as quickly as expected. It is a testament to the NWSL that two rookies with 48 collective international appearances are having so much trouble integrating into the league. Washington doesn’t have many other midfield options, so these two are going to have to keep plugging away.
Defensively, Washington is a disaster. The outside backs are mediocre and the centerbacks are just plain bad. Soccer is a sport where anything can happen, but realistically there is no reason that North Carolina’s offensive power shouldn’t be able to break this team down. Washington has been extremely successful this season in limiting the goal differential in their losses, and that largely comes down to the excellent play of Aubrey Bledsoe, the goalkeeper. Bledsoe has 80 saves this season. The next closest is Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan with 51. 12 of those saves have come in the two matches against the Courage, but Washington still conceded five goals in those two games.
What to expect from the Courage
Paul Riley has a really tough decision in front of him. Sam Mewis has been working her way back from injury, but she is probably ready to start the game against Washington. That said, the lineup that has been employed without her has been absolute fire. Sending Denise O’Sullivan to the bench in favor of Mewis is a questionable move, and I don’t think Paul is ready to go there yet. I think we will see the same lineup that started against Chicago last Wednesday.
This is a lineup that wins games.
It’s definitely possible that Sam Mewis will start instead of Denise O’Sullivan, but I think Riley will wait until after the FIFA break to make that change.
It should also be noted that the Courage will be playing again on Saturday at Sky Blue FC. Paul Riley likes to mix things up when his team has to play twice in four days, but I think he will put the traditional lineup on the field at home and then do a less traditional lineup on the road.
This should be a great game!
How to watch
Kickoff 7:00PM, Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park
Stream: go90.com and the go90 app