North Carolina will be back at it today as the Courage head to New Jersey for the second time this year to face Sky Blue. The team easily beat the Washington Spirit 2-0 on Wednesday and are in the process of running away with the NWSL Shield title. This will be the third meeting between the Courage and Sky Blue as North Carolina escaped with a 2-1 win in their last trip to the Garden State. A saved penalty ended up being crucial in that result as Carli Lloyd scored on a free kick in the last minute of the game.
Sky Blue blues
The home team will be looking for their first win in 2018. Things obviously haven’t gone to plan in New Jersey as Sky Blue have just three points from 14 games and have a -15 goal differential. Their last game against the Chicago Red Stars partly explains what happened as Sam Kerr returned to Yurcak Field and scored a hat trick against her old club. It turns out that trading away the best goal scorer in the league last year might not have been the best way to build on what was a problematic, but not completely lost season.
It’s hard to see how Sky Blue will get a positive result in this game. North Carolina thrive on pressing teams, turning the ball over and making runs in behind defenses - or sending crosses into the box for Jess McDonald. Sky Blue has some impressive players, but as a team they don’t seem to be able to get their talent on the same page. Savannah McCaskill has been featuring in the no 10. role, but she and forwards Shea Groom and Carli Lloyd haven’t managed to get on the same page this season.
In order to hope to get a result, the team will also need to step up defensively as they have allowed the most goals in the league with 26. If they fail to do so, they could be searching for their first win of the year once again next week.
It’s all coming together for NCC
Meanwhile, the Courage are flying. The team has been scoring goals by the handful in recent weeks and sailed to an easy win against the Washington Spirit. Heather O’Reilly made her first start for the club, playing at left back, giving a glimpse of the depth and options that Paul Riley has all over the field.
As far as what to expect in this game from the Courage, if they can keep McCaskill from distributing the ball forward to Lloyd and Groom, the team should be set defensively. In the attack North Carolina should have plenty of chances to pour on some goals in this match. With the creativity of Debinha and Crystal Dunn on either side of the midfield, the Courage should be able to keep constant pressure on the beleaguered Sky Blue backline.
As far as the lineup, with Jaelene Hinkle listed as questionable and New Jersey struggling so much to find the back of the net, it seems like this will be another opportunity for HAO to get a start at left back. Having come off of the bench midweek, this should be a match that Sam Mewis starts alongside McCall Zerboni as the team lines up in its familiar 4-4-2.
How to watch
Streaming: go90.com and the go90 app