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Chasing history: Can the NC Courage close out a record-breaking season?

A look at seven different potential records that the Courage could break

After winning the Shield for the second consecutive season can the Courage put their mark on the record books?
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The 2014 Seattle Reign FC had the most dominant season in NWSL history. With a final record of 16W-6D-2L, there was a strong feeling that the team would never be topped with so much parity across the league, but that feeling has quickly evaporated as the 2018 North Carolina Courage have closed in on many of the regular-season records held by that squad. Here we will look at the potential records that could be broken by the Courage this season and attempt to give a rough estimate of their likelihood. North Carolina has two games remaining on the season. First they will travel to Seattle to face the second-place Seattle Reign FC, then they have a week off, and finally they will play host to the Houston Dash in the final match of the season. Any time the current record-holder isn’t mentioned that just means the record is held by the 2014 Reign.

Most points in a season - 54 [90% chance of breaking]: The Courage currently sit at 53 points with two games remaining. They will only need to win one of the two games or draw both matches to break the record. With both of their opponents still fighting for playoff positioning and the Courage only playing for personal pride anything could happen as the season winds down. That said, North Carolina has never failed to beat Seattle and they have never lost to Houston. This record looks very likely to fall.

Most wins in a season - 16 [85% chance of breaking]: Winning either match will suffice, but Paul Riley already said that he plans on rotating which players will get rest as the season winds down. There is still an overwhelming chance that the Courage win at least one match, but it is far from guaranteed with both opponents so invested in the matches.

Best goal differential - +30 [80% chance of breaking]: The Courage already have a +31 goal differential, so the only way they fail to break this record is if they are outscored over the last two games. That seems unlikely, but if they don’t break the two preceding records they definitely won’t break this one. The Courage have a +6 goals differential against these two teams already this season, though, so the odds seem to be in their favor.

Fewest losses in a season - 2 [65% chance of breaking]: Here is where the odds begin to drop off. They have an extremely good chance of tying this record, but playing in Seattle is difficult and they did briefly go down 1-0 the last time they played there. They went on to win that game 4-1, but they were trailing at one point. Oh yeah, and they were trailing to Houston 1-0 until Frannie Crouse scored in the 81st minute in Houston earlier this year. With the opposition so much more invested in the results it wouldn’t be surprising (or too disappointing) for the team to get a loss.

Fewest goals against in a season - 19? [40% chance of breaking]: All of these other records at least have some statistical basis to the percentages, but this one has far too many variables. First, there would be people debating whether 19 is even the right number to use for the record. This record was set by Portland Thorns FC in the 2016 season, but the league only played 20 games that season. The 2014 Reign, who had 20 goals scored against them, actually had a better goals against average because that was in a 24 game season. Regardless, the Courage are fairly likely to break either one of those records. This record is further complicated by the fact that, while North Carolina has allowed just 16 goals this season, Seattle has only allowed 15. In order to break the record the Courage would have to allow just two goals in their remaining two games, but Seattle would also have to allow at least four goals. Thus, I picked 40% which I think is fairly reasonable. I’d say the Courage alone have a 70% chance of breaking the record, but Seattle also has a chance to spoil the record.

Most goals in a season - 50 [30% chance of breaking]: This record was going to be much less likely if they didn’t turn around and drop three goals on Orlando this weekend. The Courage now have 47 goals on the season, so they will need to knock in four more to break the record. They have scored eight goals in four matches against these teams already this season, but Seattle’s defense has been extremely solid and Houston has been playing much better as of late. I think they have about a 60% chance of tying the record, but it’s a good bit lower for breaking the record.

Most shutouts in a season - 11 [10% chance of breaking]: This is the only record that the Courage are attempting to take from themselves. During the 2017 season the Courage registered 11 shutouts, but if they hold both of their upcoming opponents scoreless they would end the 2018 season with 12. The odds are very very long here, but they have only let each of these teams score one goal this season, so they are already hitting .500 on shutouts against these opponents. I’ve lengthened the odds because Seattle and Houston will be so desperate to earn points in these games. It would be crazy if neither one scored a goal. Also, if they break this record they will already have broken five of the other records by default.

Special thanks to FiveThirtyEight for creating a statistical model projecting the winners of every NWSL match. I checked my percentages against their projections to make sure I wasn’t being too optimistic or pessimistic. My exact numbers were not drawn from the projections.