At 7:00 p.m. ET tonight, the North Carolina Courage will host Sky Blue FC in a match that is both insignificant and extremely important for the Courage. The Courage clinched the NWSL Shield for the third year in a row when they beat Utah Royals FC 3-0 back on September 21st, but then they blew a 1-0 lead against the Washington Spirit the following week by allowing two goals in the final 20 minutes of the match. The Courage came out on fire in the match against Washington before falling asleep and losing to the Spirit for the first time in team history.
Sky Blue FC has been a tough team to crack
Sky Blue FC has had another season mired at the bottom of the league table, but there are reasons to feel confident if you’re a fan of the New Jersey-based squad. They beat the Royals and the Chicago Red Stars this season, and they picked up draws against Portland Thorns FC and the Courage. They increased their win total from 1 in 2018 to 5 in 2019, and they’ve already earned 20 points this year. They’re still just 8th in the league, but it’s a far cry from the 9 point bottom finish from last season.
The catalyst for this change seems to have been the firing of head coach Denise Reddy, who won just one game in her 33 games at the helm of the squad. Since her departure, Sky Blue hasn’t been amazing, but they’ve won 5 of their last 14 games. Forward Jenn Hoy has scored a few late-game miracles, and Carli Lloyd has returned like a player who is actually interested in playing club soccer. Rookie Paige Monaghan has been a strong utility player, and her offensive spark has been improving as well.
The Courage have played against Sky Blue twice so far this season. In the first meeting, on a rain-soaked night that featured a mid-match weather delay, the Courage came away with a disappointing 0-0 draw. In the second meeting, the Courage won a sloppy three points despite playing a poor match from start to finish. Both of those results were certainly to the credit of SBFC playing solid soccer.
Can the Courage find their form?
There was a brief moment in time when the Courage felt like they had really put it all together and were ready to win a second championship. They went on the road to Portland and beat the Thorns 6-0 before coming home and beating the Orlando Pride 6-1. Then Merrit Mathias tore her ACL in a tight 1-0 win over the Houston Dash, but that injury didn’t seem to matter much as Heather O’Reilly stepped in an played well in the 3-0 win over Utah.
But the game against Washington two weeks ago just felt different. Sam Mewis, who hasn’t played for club or country since September 21st, is nursing a knee injury, and it’s hard to know when she will be ready to play. The difference between Mewis and McCall Zerboni in the midfield is a big one. Without her dominance in the midfield and aggressive forward touch, Crystal Dunn and Debinha are forced to drop further back in the formation. It sucks a lot of offensive power out of the team, especially since O’Reilly lacks some of the athleticism that Mathias brought down the wing.
It would be great to see Mewis log at least a few minutes on the pitch in the game today. She is going to be a major player next week in the playoff match against either Reign FC or Portland. Apart from Mathias, who is out for the season, no other starters are listed on the injury report. This is good news for Kristen Hamilton, who was injured and unavailable for the match against Washington.
How to Watch
The Courage will kick off their final game of the regular season at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park tonight at 7:00 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on Yahoo! Sports in the United States, on TSN in Canada, and on ESPN elsewhere around the world. The game will also be broadcast locally on WRAL-2.