The North Carolina Courage, recent champions of the ICC Women’s Tournament, are coming home to Cary, NC on Sunday to face off against Portland Thorns FC for the last time this regular season. It has been nearly a month since the Courage last had a home game, and it certainly feels like it’s been forever.
If you’re trying to piece together everything that’s happened since the last time we sat in the stands on Wednesday, July 11th to watch the Courage earn a 2-0 win over the Washington Spirit you’re not alone. Since that game the Courage earned a 0-0 draw against Utah Royals FC, won two matches at the ICC Women’s Tournament, and six of their players competed in the Tournament of Nations. Now the Courage return to Sahlen’s Stadium with a (hopefully) full team to play the final handful of games before the postseason begins.
Portland desperately wants a win
While North Carolina has already secured home field advantage and is one win away from clinching the NWSL Shield, Portland is one of six teams locked in a fierce competition for the other three playoff spots. The Thorns have been a team focused on improvement after injuries and international duty forced them into a difficult personnel position early in the season. Those difficult times are long gone now, and PTFC is looking like one of the better teams in the league with the playoffs approaching.
After a rough start to the season, Portland is in a pretty enviable position amongst playoff contenders. They are currently sitting in third place with 29 points and a game in hand over their closest competition. While this does mean they have a slightly more packed schedule, it also means that they can afford a slip here or there while still maintaining their playoff positioning. The Courage have already beaten the Thorns twice this season. In the first game of the year they secured a 1-0 win thank to a brilliant shot by Debinha, and they got a 4-1 win in the second meeting in Portland. Now with both teams coming back from a long stretch apart, the two sides will be looking to build cohesion heading into the final five games of the year.
It’s hard to know exactly the type of game that Portland will try to play, but I assume that they will look to strike on the counter as opposed to holding possession and building from the back. Regardless of the game plan, Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan are deadly in the midfield, with Hayley Raso and Christine Sinclair presenting as equally dangerous options at the top of the attack. Portland may struggle defensively after it was announced that Kat Reynolds is done for the season with an MCL tear. Reynolds scored the only goal for Portland in the 4-1 loss earlier this season against the Courage.
North Carolina in better shape than most
While most of the league was resting during the Tournament of Nations break, the Courage sought to stay sharp by playing in the ICC Women’s Tournament. While I predicted tough losses in both matches, Paul Riley defied me by winning the whole darn thing. Nothing could have been more beneficial for many of the fringe Courage players than a set of matches against two amazing teams from Europe, and I feel that North Carolina will be the most prepared team as we head into the last stretch of the regular season.
There is, as of yet, no official word from the team about whether their international players will be available for this match, but based on my discussions with other members of the media we should expect all six of our players available for the game against Portland.
Thus, I give you the lineup. There is no reason to think Riley won’t stick with the 4-4-2 box system.
At some point this year, I believe that Sam Mewis will become the starter over Denise O’Sullivan next to McCall Zerboni on the back line. I know that Mewis said she wasn’t sure that she was going to ever win back her starting spot, but I think Riley wants her to be that player. I also left D’Angelo as the goalkeeper, because Riley said that Sabs was the better shot blocker, and I think that will be the biggest threat from Portland. Outside of those two positions, and barring and undisclosed injury, the rest of the lineup should be a pretty straightforward prediction.
The match will take place on Sunday, August 5th at 6:00 pm in Cary, NC at WakeMed Soccer Park. The game will be broadcast around the world at NWSLsoccer.com.