On Friday night, just before the clock struck midnight here on the East Coast, Portland Thorns FC topped Seattle Reign FC 3-1 in the last match with playoff implications of the 2018 NWSL regular season. With the win, Portland earned a home playoff game next weekend against Seattle, and they ensured that the North Carolina Courage would be hosting the Chicago Red Stars in the second semifinal match. The Courage still have one game left to play to close out the regular season, and while the game lacks playoff importance, it could be historic as North Carolina has a chance at breaking a number of league records. Here is an in-depth look at each of the current records that the Courage might break tonight as they face off against the Houston Dash.
Most points in a season 
When they secured the 1-1 draw last weekend, the Courage also tied the record for most points earned in a season. That record, held by the 2014 Seattle Reign, will be overtaken if the Courage are able to get a win or draw against Houston tonight. The odds are definitely in North Carolina’s favor with a current record of 16W-6D-1L despite the unfortunate injury to midfielder McCall Zerboni.
Predictions suggest that the Courage are about 95% likely to break the record, but I would curb those odds a bit and put the number closer to 85%. Paul Riley isn’t going to want any injured or exhausted players going into Sunday’s playoff game against Chicago, so if any starter picks up a knock during the game it will probably result in an early sub. Still, odds definitely favor the Courage with Houston a very mediocre side.
Most wins in a season 
Once again, the 2018 Courage have already tied this record held jointly by the 2016 Reign and 2017 Courage. If the Courage win tonight they would set the bar one game higher and hold the record alone at 17 wins. The season will eventually be extended and this record would be broken when the season increases to 28 or 30 games, but it would still be nice to break the record as we head into the playoffs. The truth is that most of these records go hand-in-hand, and if the Courage break this record they will also break three more.
Largest goal differential [+30]
The Courage have already eclipsed this record with a current goal differential of +31, so the only way that they would lose this record would be if they lost the match. Last season, despite winning 16 games, the Courage only recorded a goal differential of +16. That statistic is a testament to how consistently the good the Courage have been all year, even though they have rarely run up the score on their opponents. North Carolina has improved on both sides of the ball, and it would be a great disappointment to the home fans if they weren’t able to hold this record.
Fewest losses in a season 
This one is the most important, in my opinion. While all of the other records will be eclipsed as the league grows and the season lengthens, this record is going to get more difficult as time goes on. If it weren’t for the 94th minute Brittany Ratcliffe goal that gave Utah the 1-0 victory we would be talking about the possibility of an undefeated season, but instead we are looking scrape by with just one loss instead of two. Never before in a 24 game season has any team come close to eclipsing this record, and with the parity hardwired into the NWSL format it seems like it may never happen again. This is the best chance to set a record that will stand the test of time.
Fewest goals against in a season 
Thanks to Portland’s thorough thumping of Seattle, the Courage are now in position to break this record. Seattle came into that match with 16 goals against, but Portland added three more to that total and now the record sits tied with the 2016 Portland Thorns at 19. North Carolina currently has 17 goals against, so they can afford to allow up to one goal against and still keep the record locked down. Anything more than one goal for Houston will prevent sole ownership of the record, but the Courage have only allowed one goal to Houston in their two matches so far this season.
Most goals in a season 
Finally, a record independent of the rest.
It doesn’t matter how many goals the Dash put into the back of the net, the Courage are playing for this record all by themselves. With 48 goals already scored, the Courage need to score three more to break the record. That is definitely a reasonable task. North Carolina has scored three or more goals in eight games this season, but it will take an excellent performance from the whole squad to make it happen. With Zerboni out, the danger is that Samantha Mewis and Denise O’Sullivan will take a large portion of the game working out their chemistry together, thwarting the opportunity to break the record. Or maybe the forwards have an off day. Or maybe Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell plays her heart out and saves everything. We will find out in less than 12 hours!
The best and worst result
Obviously I’m a Courage homer. I want dearly for the Courage to win 5-0 and crush all of the records, but what if I was a casual observer? What if I had no preference one way or another, then what would I be rooting for?
If I were in those shoes I’d be cheering for a 3-2 Houston victory, of course! Why is that? If the Houston Dash win 3-2 then the Courage will be exactly tied with the 2014 Seattle Reign for the best record in every category. Both teams would end with final records of 16W-6D-2L. They both would have 50 goals for, 20 goals against, and a +30 goal differential. Just for the pure improbability of two amazing teams finishing with the exact same values in every major statistical category, I can’t imagine any neutral looking for anything other than a 3-2 Houston win.
I’ll be at the midfield line on the front row in my Courage jersey shouting at the ref. I hope to see you there!