When: Saturday, May 27th @ 4pm
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview IL
Watch: go90 app or go90.com
On Saturday the first-place North Carolina Courage will close out their grueling week of soccer with a chance to avenge their 3-1 loss against the second-place Chicago Red Stars. The Red Stars hold the upper-hand in terms of rest and prep time for this game after the Courage beat Sky Blue FC 2-0 on Wednesday while Chicago watched from their homes that night. This game will mark the first time this season that a team will play Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday games, as Sky Blue will not play until later Saturday evening.
The good news for the Courage is that they will have captain Abby Erceg, anchor of the 3-back defense, back in action after she missed the game on Sunday due to a red card suspension. In response to Erceg’s absence, coach Paul Riley threw together on of the most baffling lineups he could imagine, with forward Jess McDonald attempting to play right back. While McDonald’s inexperience at the position was not directly to blame for the three goals conceded in the first half of play, she frequently found herself too far up field and central, leaving other players to mark men on her side. While Christen Press was definitely offside before she drew the penalty kick that would open the scoring, McDonald should have been marking her to prevent the easy pass. McDonald was moved forward in the second half and the Courage managed to score a goal and prevent any more defensive mishaps.
In addition to getting Erceg back, McCall Zirboni is unlikely to play such a terrible game this Saturday. On the third goal against the Courage in the first half, Zirboni made the boneheaded move of chesting the ball down in her own 18-yard box to the feet of an attacking Chicago player. Zirboni repeatedly made errant passes and dribbled into traffic throughout the game, but she played considerably better on Wednesday against Sky Blue.
In order to win this weekend the defense has to show more urgency, challenging the Red Stars midfielders and forwards before they can pick out an easy pass. They also need to make sure they aren’t outnumbered on counter-attacks, partially caused by McDonald getting too far out of position to provide proper assistance. On offense, there was far too much dribbling and too little passing during the first half, with Debhina and Zirboni being the most common offenders. The return of McDonald to a full term of offensive play will definitely help as well.
The most likely outcome for this game would be a 1-1 draw. I don’t think we will break down as frequently as we did a week ago, but Christen Press skillfully picked apart the defense. Stopping her is a near impossibility, so earning a clean sheet seems tough. On the offensive side, the Courage are the only team that have scored in every game they’ve played. Chicago’s defense, while good, is not strong enough to keep the Courage out of the back of the net for a full 90 minutes. If either team can secure a second goal they would be odds-on favorites to earn 3 points.