The NC Courage go into the first of their final two games of the NWSL season with a test against the second place Seattle Reign. At this point the match will determine how historic the NC Courage season will be as Aaron Bellamy pointed out earlier this week. With several records on the line and the Courage looking to send a message to a potential playoff or NWSL Championship opponent, NC still has something to play for.
A home game on the line for the Reign
Seattle will be looking to lock down a home playoff match with a win in the game. A draw or loss still keeps them in second, but the would need some help from the Washington Spirit to keep the third place Portland Thorns out of reach.
The Reign earned their spot in the playoffs on Tuesday night with a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dash. Seattle largely controlled possession in the game, keeping the ball 56% of the time and sending in 16 shots with eight on frame. The two goals from forward Jodie Taylor put the game out of reach for the Dash and moved her into fourth in the Golden Boot race.
The Reign are stacked with talent. Forward Megan Rapinoe is nominated for the FIFA 2018 best women’s player award. She is having a superlative season yet again and is tied for first with six assists in NWSL. The aforementioned Taylor scored her two goals against Houston just three minutes apart and has five goals in her last six games. Defensively, the Reign have 12 clean sheets on the year and could set a record of their own by keeping a shut out in one of their last two games of the year. The team has also allowed only 15 goals over the course of the season, so the Courage will need to be able to convert the chances they create this weekend.
North Carolina with a chance to sweep the Reign
All that said, North Carolina will be a tough opponent for Seattle. They have won both of the meetings between the teams this year, first with a 1-0 victory at home and then went to Memorial Stadium and took all three points with a 4-1 thrashing of the home team. The 4-1 win was in a stretch of nine games in which they scored at least three goals in six of those matches. If there is one thing the Courage have shown they can do in 2018, it is create chances - in both of their meetings against Seattle this year the team showed the value of finishing them.
One challenge that both teams will have to deal with will be the poor air quality in Seattle. Over the past few weeks, the city has dealt with air advisories due to smoke from wildfires in Canada and California. As a result, the NWSL mandated breaks to let players recover from the effects of playing while breathing smoky air. While the air is clearing, there still may be unhealthy levels of pollution in the air come time for kickoff on Saturday.
Environmental issues aside, the Courage have shown that they can find chances and convert them against the Reign. The five goals they’ve scored against Seattle in their two meetings this year represent 33% of all of the goals the Reign have allowed in 2018. That’s a good sign as North Carolina look to steam into the playoffs and set records to close out 2018.
Pass. I’m not quite sure at all what to expect out of Paul Riley to be honest. On one hand, he could stick with his regular lineup like this against Orlando last weekend...
While we wait for this severe weather to pass, meet our Starting XI for #NCvORL pic.twitter.com/8wFZGecmF7— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) August 18, 2018
Or he could rest some of his starters with an international break coming up and several players set to be away on national team duty.
How to watch...
The match will kick off at 4PM and stream on NWSLSoccer.com.