This Independence Day the North Carolina Courage will be hosting the Chicago Red Stars as they try to beat Chicago for the first time during the regular season. The Red Stars are like kryptonite to the Courage. The teams faced off three times during the regular season in 2017 and Chicago won all three of those matches. The teams faced off in the semifinals of the playoffs that year and the Courage were able to get revenge with a 1-0 win that sent North Carolina to the championship game. Unfortunately, in their first meeting of 2018 Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had a stand out performance with 12 saves and that match ended 1-1. Now, coming off two massive road wins, the Courage are heading home to face the team that seems to have their number.
Chicago is a team in flux
Following a good 2017 season, the Red Stars traded Christen Press to Houston and received Australian forward Sam Kerr from Sky Blue FC. Kerr, one of the most dynamic strikers in the world, was supposed to give Chicago a push that would lead them to the finals for the first time in the team’s history.
Instead, Chicago’s season has been anything but transformational. The team was injured and incomplete when the season started. Kerr and Yuki Nagasato were away playing with their respective countries for the first month of the season, Julie Ertz suffered an injury that kept her sidelined for about seven games, and Casey Short and Vanessa DiBernardo were both out for the first half of the year. Just last week, the Red Stars traded away Sofia Huerta, Taylor Comeau, and Sam Johnson. With so many important pieces missing from the lineup, Chicago naturally struggled to find team chemistry.
Things hit their lowest point for the Red Stars on May 26th when they were beaten 5-2 by the Orlando Pride in Chicago. Since then, Chicago has won three games and drawn once, allowing them to fight back into a very tight playoff race. They are currently tied with Orlando for third place at 22 points, which leaves them one point ahead of fifth-place Utah Royals FC. A win tonight would move Chicago into second place.
With Kerr sitting at the top of the formation, Chicago typically plays in a 4-5-1 formation. The defense has come on strong of late, with Short coming back from injury, but their real strength is in the midfield. All five midfielders are adept at creating space for each other and feeding the ball through to Kerr. It will be extremely important for the Courage back line to step as a unit because if anyone is out of sync things will be too easy for Kerr. With so much focus on the lone striker, the other attacking midfielders typically find themselves at the top of the box in open space where they are deadly accurate. Chicago matches up extremely well with the Courage, and it will be necessary to find an early goal so that we aren’t chasing the game like the last time these two teams met.
North Carolina’s lineup
On Saturday, Paul Riley put out a slightly different lineup that we projected. The big change was Kaleigh Kurtz playing outside back in place of the injured Jaelene Hinkle. I think that Hinkle was probably resting for this game, but it’s possible that she will still be unable to play.
Speaking of questionable players, the Courage are absolutely loaded with them this week. Abby Dahlkemper, who made her first return after missing the three previous games, is still recovering from a knee injury she suffered while training with the USWNT. Sam Mewis, who did not play on Saturday, is also listed as questionable. I don’t think I would count on her starting, but she was warming up during the game against Orlando like she might have been ready to come on as a sub. Goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland suffered a slight hip injury in the game against Orlando, and I think she will probably be on the bench for this match. During the game in Orlando, Sabrina D’Angelo was seen warming up, but Rowland was never subbed out. D’Angelo has not played since she suffered a sprained ankle on a kick save the last time these two teams played on May 6th.
Based on how well the team has played the last two matches I’d like to think that we can come away with a solid home win on July 4th, but Chicago is going to be one of the tougher opponents we will face this season. The Courage offense has been extremely lackluster at home. They have scored 24 goals in 8 road matches, but have only scored 7 times in their 7 home matches. It would be nice to show off those fireworks on the field before we get to see them after the game.
How to watch
The Courage will kick off against the Red Stars on July 4th at 7:00 pm ET at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. The game will be broadcast on go90.com and the go90 app for viewers in the United States, or it will be broadcast on NWSLsoccer.com for international viewers.