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Women’s International Champions Cup: Manchester City gears up against the NC Courage

Can the Courage win the tourney again?

The Courage celebrate a goal against Lyon at the 2018 Women’s International Champions Cup

The North Carolina Courage will host Manchester City W.F.C. in the second match of the 2019 International Champions Cup Women’s Tournament. After Lyon and Madrid face off in the opening match, the second match of the evening will feature the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup winning NC Courage players at home for the first time since April! Get hyped, Cary!

While the match won’t feature any fellow Americans on the other side of the pitch, there will be plenty of players that the USWNT beat on their way to a fourth World Cup title. Manchester City and the North Carolina Courage did not face off in the last iteration of the Women’s ICC, but the Courage were able to win the tournament despite missing six of their top USWNT stars. This years they have a full compliment of players while Man City is depleted due to injury.

Man City needs to right the ship

Before the negatives, let’s look at the positives for City last season. They won the Women’s FC Cup; a big tournament that pits teams from all levels of English women’s football against one another. The Blues had to topple Chelsea in the semi-finals before having an easy go at West Ham to win the Cup. They also finished second in the FA WSL, ensuing themselves a spot in the upcoming UEFA Women’s Champions League. Those are two solid accomplishments.

The bad news is that they absolutely flamed out of the Champions League last season. After being bumped from the competition by Lyon in the semis by just one goal on aggregate the two previous years, Man City was embarrassed by Atletico Madrid in the round of 32. City is still a better team than Madrid, but there are definitely cracks forming. They lost forward Nikita Parris on the offseason to Lyon. They lost Claire Emslie to the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League as well. The loss of Paris is a crippling blow, as she accounted for 19 goals and 7 assists last season.

City will be hoping that newcomer Ellen White can pick up some of that production. White scored 6 goals at the World Cup in France, earning the Bronze Ball for her efforts, but she will not be available for this tournament due to an injury suffered in training. In her absence, Lee Geum-min has also been added to the squad from South Korea, and the team is certainly hoping that she can provide some offensive spark. Belgian forward Tessa Wullaert is also a player to watch on offense.

The real strength of this team comes in the midfield. Jill Scott and Keira Walsh are both stand-out midfielders who played for England at the World Cup. They will have their hands full with the powerhouse Courage midfield.

Soccer: Womens World Cup-England vs USA
Jill Scott (8) battles with Alex Morgan at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals.
Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive line is similarly impressive. Demi Stokes and captain Steph Houghton both featured for England at the World Cup. They should be stout defenders going up against forwards Kristen Hamilton, Lynn Williams, and Jess McDonald of the Courage. Stokes, in particular, is valuable in the attack and on defense. Unfortunately, England’s top keeper, Karen Bardsley, is injured and will not be manning the goal for her team this tournament. That leaves Ellie Roebuck, a serviceable but less experience keeper, to hold the space between the posts for City.

The Courage need these games together

Last Sunday, the Courage dropped three points to Portland Thorns FC thanks to two devastating own goals. It was an absolute gut-punch for the players and fans, as they opened the game so confidently before collapsing under the weight of self-inflicted defensive mistakes.

The benefit of these two games is that the Courage will have extra time to integrate their USWNT players back into the lineup without the threat of dropping more points in league play. While it might be preseason for the European clubs, the Courage have only had their American starters for about five games this season. They are still working back into form.

North Carolina Courage v Chicago Red Stars
Sam Mewis (center) and Jess McDonald have only played twice for the Courage since coming back from the World Cup.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

These matches, hopefully against City and Olympique Lyonnais, provide two separate challenges. In the game against the Blues, North Carolina needs to come out strong, score early, and then keep the pressure on. The Courage should be able to secure a multi-goal victory against the out-of-form Manchester side. In the second game, the Courage will be vastly outmatched in individual talent, but they will have an opportunity to play against the best players in the world all on one pitch. It will be a game of weathering attacks, playing smart, and finding places to poke and prod at the opposing defense. If they fail to win the first game, though, they will have a second chance against a similar opponent to Manchester in their second game.

Head coach Paul Riley opted to leave both McCall Zerboni and Jess McDonald on the bench at the start of the game against Portland, and that felt like the right decision. Everything was clicking perfectly early in the match. This is just a friendly, though, so we will have to see if any significant changes are made to the lineup. Either way, it’s a great chance to face off against a new opponent in a fun environment.

With this lineup, the Courage were able to dominate the first half of play. Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was forced to make 10 saves, an no Thorns player was able to get a ball into the back of the net.

Of course, there is no codified injury report for these games out, so the lineup could change based on how individual players are feeling. I firmly believe that this is the strongest 11 for the Courage right now.