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NC Courage vs Houston Dash match preview: Looking good down the stretch

Houston comes to town

Kristen Hamilton scored four goals the last time North Carolina hosted the Dash.

The North Carolina Courage are three games through their grueling stretch of five matches in 15 days. On Tuesday night they will play the fourth game against the Houston Dash. This match is a rescheduled game that was originally slated to kick off during the ICC Women’s Tournament, but the league moved it back to accommodate the tournament.

The Courage have been simply phenomenal over the last three matches. They gutted out a tough 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC on the road before travelling to face Portland Thorns FC. They absolutely dismantled the Thorns to the tune of 6-0 before heading back to Cary, NC where they hosted and beat the Orlando Pride 6-1. Now they get the Houston Dash, who are coming off an upset win against Utah Royals FC on Friday. The Dash are still technically alive in the playoff race, but they tend to struggle against the Courage. Houston has lost 4-1 and 5-2 in the two meetings between these teams so far this year.

Houston needs a miracle

The Houston Dash have been flat most of the season. There was a brief period of time just three or four games into the 2019 season when it seemed like Houston might actually have a little something special this season, but then the World Cup happened, the team collapsed, and they’ve never been quite able to recover.

While still technically in the playoff picture, Houston is really hanging on by a thread. They need a whole litany of improbable outcomes just to have a chance at maybe being one of the top four teams in the league. In their five NWSL seasons, the Dash have never been a part of the playoffs.

While much of the Dash roster is more towards the mediocre side of the league, English defender/forward Rachel Daly continues to impress in league play. She is undeniably the heart and soul of the Dash, and she has the ability and pace to score a quick stunner on the counter. Sofia Huerta, who had seemingly disappeared for the team, reemerged last weekend and scored twice to get Houston the win over Utah. Kristie Mewis has also been playing well since Daly returned, and that trio of players are the most likely to cause difficulties for the Courage.

Unfortunately for Houston, the defense has continued to play poorly. They are easily broken down, and the structure just isn’t there right now. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell started out the season brilliantly, but a combination of personal errors and lack of supporting cast has reduced her impact on the game. All told, it’s going to be tough for Houston to compete with the Courage straight up...but maybe they won’t have to.

Deep in the rotation game

The Courage managed to dominate the Pride on Saturday without having Sam Mewis or Merritt Mathias step on the pitch. The goal was to have Jess McDonald rest for most of the match as well, but that plan was scrapped once Kristen Hamilton went out with an eye injury.

If the rotations remain regular, you have to think that it is Crystal Dunn’s turn to take a game off. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Lynn Williams got a bit more of a break this match. With Leah Pruitt still out due to a minor knee surgery, McKenzie Meehan has been stepping in as a replacement forward. It doesn’t seem like she is quite ready for a full game, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of her starting.

Realistically, other than knowing that Mewis and Mathias will be in the starting lineup once again, it’s probably just going to come down to which players feel ready to hit the pitch on less than 72 hours of rest. That’s a really quick turn around, and Paul Riley has mentioned repeatedly that he is trying to rotate the lineup. With the excellent results and the NWSL Shield nearly in hand, he is probably more willing to put a subpar lineup on the field. I’m sure a start from Meredith Speck is well deserved after she put in solid minutes for the team during the World Cup.

How to watch

This game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNews from Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. The game will also be broadcast on ESPN internationally.