The North Carolina Courage will be away from home against Utah Royals FC tomorrow night and will need to be at their very best to get the three points against Utah. The Courage were disappointing against the Chicago Red Stars next week and need to start picking up points again to stay in the top four of the National Women’s Soccer League standings.
Press vs the backline
This will be the biggest concern coming into this game for the Courage. Last week against the Red Stars, North Carolina showed that despite being able to put the ball into the back of the next, they are struggling with keeping the other team from scoring. The two goals conceded against Chicago were goals a team as experienced as the Courage should not be letting in. They cannot afford to be that lackadaisical against the Royals who have one of the best forwards in the world showing off her skill at the moment.
That is what Christen Press can do at any given moment. A great first touch, a change of pace, trickery and a smart finish are all apart of Press’ arsenal and if the Courage do not keep an eye on her all game long, she will punish them just as she punished Portland Thorns FC last week. All the returning World Cup players should be available for the Courage tomorrow night and the likes of Abby Dahlkemper will need to marshal what has proven to be an inconsistent defense to keep not only Press away from goal but Amy Rodriguez as well.
The Courage are so good going forward, now they can add Dunn and McDonald to the party
Crystal Dunn, Jessica McDonald and Samantha Mewis are all set to make their returns to the starting XI for the Courage. Dunn and McDonald in particular will be the ones that the Utah defense will try to keep as far away from goal as possible. Kristen Hamilton has filled in well for the two United States Women’s National Team forwards but at the end of the day, Dunn and McDonald’s quality is a step above hers. Lynn Williams, who for awhile, was looked at as someone ready to break into the USWNT setup permanently, has been disappointing. She’s getting into the right positions but isn’t finishing off her chances as often as she should. The pressure of carrying the team should ease with the reintroduction Dunn and McDonald and thus, bring Williams back to the level Courage fans know she can achieve.
The Courage need to change their fortunes to not only stay of the Thorns’ heels in the NWSL standings but also put some distance between themselves at the Royals who are four points off of the Courage, with two games in hand. With so many teams (seven!) so close together in the standings, any dropped points are becoming more and more damaging to the teams’ playoff hopes. Dunn and McDonald will help make the Courage more difficult to stop and if the backline holds up, will make North Carolina the favourites once again to lift the NWSL Shield and the NWSL Championship.