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NC Courage at Houston Dash: Match preview

A different kind of test awaits the Courage in Houston

Andy Mead/isiphotos.com

That was more like it. After a fairly frustrating performance against the Chicago Red Stars, the NC Courage got their first win of the season against the Orlando Pride. Quite simply, the Pride came to WakeMed Soccer Park with a gameplan that allowed the Courage to tear them apart. Orlando is obviously still working on things. Their efforts to build out of the back misfired, when they won the ball in central midfield they generally promptly lost it, and rather than making things difficult for the Courage, their tactics and lack of cohesion let North Carolina create chance after chance to the tune of five goals. It was a tough night for the visitors and a big win for the reigning champs.

As far as what we learned in the past two games, it’s that not much has changed for the Courage. The team is still creating an absurd number of shots. Opposing defenses will be under pressure all season if the team can keep doing that. We also saw that the backups can contribute also. The game was already well lost for Orlando by the time that Kristen Hamilton, Leah Pruitt, and Julia Spetsmark came into the game, but the three attackers combined to set up Spetsmark’s goal in the 88th minute. As we get ready for the US Women’s National Team to perhaps open camp soon, very soon as it may be, that bodes really well for the Courage.

Dash finally on?

2018 was a pretty difficult year for the Houston Dash. The preseason included shenanigans involving a trade sending Carli Lloyd to Sky Blue and by the time the team found its footing, it was playing catch up with the rest of the league. Houston ended up in 6th place just five points outside of the last playoff spot. Looking to build off of that finish, the team brought in a new manager, James Clarkson, and added a pair of veteran midfielders in Sophie Schmidt and Christine Narin. The central midfielders will be key to linking up play between the front four of Rachel Daly, Kealia Ohai (when healthy), Sofia Huerta, and Nichelle Prince.

So far, that’s been the story for the team in 2019. The Dash opened the year at home with a 1-1 draw against the Reign and then went to New Jersey and won 1-0 against Sky Blue. It was a dominant win for the Dash as they outshot the home team 19-8 with 11 shots on goal.

In addition to the attacking power they feature, the Dash backline is solid with Australia National Team center back Clare Polkinghorne paired with Amber Brooks and left back Allysha Chapman joined out the outside by Lindsay Agnew - both who have represented the Canadian National Team. The back four plays in front of one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the league Jane Campbell.

Tactically, Houston deploys a high press and tries to force mistakes in their opponents’ build up to create chances in transition. The 4-2-3-1 creates a solid foundation for them with Narin acting as playmaker and Schmidt shielding the backline.

Looking for win number two

If we know one thing about the NC Courage it is that they want to create shots. The Dash will present a challenge to the team that they haven’t had in the first two matches to do that though. While Chicago mucked up the midfield and forced North Carolina to try to break them down after scoring an early goal, the Pride fell apart once the Courage found the back of the net.

However, the Pride almost had things go differently. Their press was successful at creating turnovers, they just couldn’t do anything once they won the ball. Things may be different for the Dash at home with a more solid midfield and team studded with players who will be going to the World Cup this year. Still, Paul Riley hasn’t had a huge commitment to possession as much as his goal is to create chances - what I’m saying is that he wants the team to shoot, a lot.

That might mean that on the road North Carolina simply bypasses the midfield and relies on the hold up play of Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald to set up shots for the dual no 10s or even a marauding Sam Mewis or McCall Zerboni. About those dual no. 10s. One player has been missing from the team so far this year, but she could be back. After visa issues, Debinha was available for the match against Orlando but didn’t make the 18. It seems like she should make the bench this week if not start giving an already brilliant attacking team yet more punch going forward.

As far as a lineup prediction - I suspect it will be the same as last week. The one spot I might be wrong is right attacking midfield where Debinha may push O’Sullivan to the bench after a week and a half of full training.

How to watch

Kickoff: 6:00PM EST; BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas.

Streaming: Yahoo Sports and NWSLSoccer.com