Last Saturday the Courage traveled to Boston where they beat the Breakers 1-0. Ashley Hatch scored the lone goal of the game, as she extended her scoring streak to 3 games. The emergence of Hatch has been a Godsend for coach Paul Riley given that Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams – a scoring duo that notched 21 of 40 goals scored by the team last season – are both down with injuries. With the three major injuries to McDonald, Williams and Kawamura, the Courage kept the same lineup for two weeks in a row for the first time all season. I don’t envy the situation that Riley will be in when McDonald and Williams come back from injury, although I would be interested to see the Courage roll out a 4-3-3 with Smith, Dahlkemper, Erceg and Hinkle at the back, Mewis, Debinha and Zerboni in the middle, and Williams, McDonald and Hatch up top. While it is a very offensive lineup, it arguably puts the best players on the pitch together.
LifeTime Game of the Week
This weekend the Courage will face Sky Blue FC on national television in Cary, NC. The last time Sky Blue visited they played on Wednesday night in front of a nearly non-existent crowd due to serious weather concerns that never materialized. Sam Mewis noted after the game, just like the fans who made it to the stadium, that it poured right before the game and it poured right after the game, but it was completely dry while the players were on the pitch. The weather this weekend looks similarly wet, but hopefully we can stave off the rain during the game.
The Courage will come into the game with a significant advantage in rest time. Sky Blue already played a mid-week game where they lost to the Orlando Pride in New Jersey while the Courage were one of two teams that did not play on Wednesday this week. The fact that Sky Blue is going to be facing their third game in seven days will help maximize the effectiveness of the high-press system that the Courage usually play and will also make the difference in fitness and toughness more extreme than usual. The Courage are already known for being on the best conditioned and most physical teams in the league, and I don’t envy Sky Blue traveling to face a rested Courage on weak legs.
After losing Kawamura the 4-back defense of Smith, Erceg, Dahlkemper and Hinkle have allowed just one goal in the last three games, while Katelyn Rowland has been a rock in goal. This bodes well for the Courage as Sky Blue is tied for second in the league in scoring with the Courage, but while the Courage have allowed just 11 goals against Sky Blue has allowed 19. The lack of experience on the New Jersey side has become increasingly apparent over the last few weeks, and as long as the Courage can finish their chances they should be able to extend the two-game losing streak the Sky Blue is currently facing.
While the Courage players were able to relax comfortably at home on Wednesday night their fellow NWSL coworkers had to travel around the country in four fantastic games. Even with the extra game this week, though, the rest of the league was unable to close the gap on the Courage in the standings. The Courage hold a 4 point lead over the 2nd place Red Stars and a 7 point lead over the 4th place Seattle Reign.
Both Sky Blue FC and the Chicago Red Stars had a chance to reduce the Courage lead in the standings down to less than one game, but neither team was able to capitalize on this opportunity. Sky Blue had the lead in their Sunday game against Chicago and their Wednesday game against Orlando, but they ended up losing both of those contests. If they had held on for the win in those two games they would have been just 2 points out of first place with a chance to overtake the Courage in the standings with a victory this weekend. Instead they have slumped out of playoff position to 5th place on the table.
The Red Stars had the chance to pull just 1 point out of first place by winning their Wednesday game in Seattle, but they too were unable to maintain the early lead. Despite benefiting from Sky Blue falling apart against them last Sunday, the Red Stars gave up two PKs (one of them was highly questionable) to Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign. The loss leaves Chicago in a distant 2nd place with a difficult trip to Orlando on tap for this weekend.
With the season nearly halfway over the Courage have been in first place for the entirety of the season (although they technically weren’t first due to tiebreakers after weeks 1 and 2).