The North Carolina Courage have a big match upcoming this Saturday when they travel to face Utah Royals FC. These two teams drew in their first match of the season, but the Courage were able to pull out a tough 2-1 win in the second. The Courage have a chance at clinching the NWSL Shield for the third year in a row with a win, but the Royals will be desperate for points as they fight for a playoff spot. We reached out to Lucas Muller of RSL Soapbox to see how they were feeling about the upcoming match.
Christen Press has been on fire since the World Cup. How has her play changed the fortunes of Utah Royals FC?
It seems obvious to say, but Press has been one of the most impactful players for the Royals, even if she’s second in the team’s goal scoring (to Amy Rodriguez). She extremely dangerous in her speed and is able to strike when it seems as there isn’t an opportunity. Press led the way when the team scored 8 goals in a 3 games run in August, which was a team high for goal scoring.
She’s certainly not the only player who’s improved Utah Royals post-World Cup. The return of Desiree Scott to her defensive mid field role was huge in improving the defense. The only player that has an equally strong claim to best player on the team is Sauerbrunn. The 34 year old USWNT center back is an incredible player, and possibly the best CB the US has ever produced. She’s helped URFC clean up the entire backline.
538’s soccer predictions give URFC just a 37% chance of making the playoffs. Do you feel that those odds accurately reflect the state of the playoff race after the loss against Houston?
A 37% chance of making the playoffs feels pretty accurate. While the Royals are just ahead of the Reign in the standings, the Reign have a much easier final four games than Utah. It seems very likely that Utah will finish in 5th this season, but a win over Houston would change that conversation entirely.
The Royals were scheduled to play the Reign this past Wednesday, but due to heavy rains making the field unplayable in Tacoma, the team had to leave Washington without playing that game. It’s since been rescheduled for this upcoming Wednesday, which may give Vero and Press a chance to recover as both were listed as questionable on the injury report. It’s also likely Megan Rapinoe will miss the rescheduled match since she’ll be in Milan on Monday for the FIFA Football Awards. That could be the difference between who does and who does not make the playoffs.
What position group matches up best against the Courage’s counterpart (Utah def vs Courage off, etc)?
Utah Royals are known for their strong defense, so that will be fascinating to see how they handle a high-flying Courage attack. For me, that will be the most interesting battle to watch on the field, but the Royal’s attack against Hinkel - Erceg - Dahlkemper - Mathias will be a lot of fun as well.
I think the Courage’s midfield has the advantage over Utah’s; controlling the ball in the mild of the field and connecting to the attack was certainly an issue when the team faced the Dash last weekend. With Vero recently injured, if she’s not ready to go for this game, that becomes much for difficult for Utah.
Bonus: What is your prediction for attendance and final score in the match?
I would guess Rio Tinto Stadium will draw around 12,000 fans. This match features so many national team players and that’s always compelling to Utah fans. I’d love to see a 1-0 win for Utah (ideally through a last minute goal from Brittany Ratcliffe, who is currently injured), but I think it’s a 2-2 draw.