A Disappointing Home Loss
Last weekend the Courage hosted the Sky Blue on a scorcher of a day – as would be expected at 4 pm in July in Central NC – and were soundly beaten in a 1-0 contest by Sky Blue FC. Despite having the rest advantage after not playing a mid-week game, the Courage allowed Sky Blue to slow down the game and play possession oriented soccer while the Courage players ran around like chickens with their heads cut off after the precise passes. The game certainly wasn’t all bad, the Courage did generate multiple opportunities, but the inability to find the back of the net was shameful given how often the ball was bouncing in front of the goal. Then there was the Mewis PK; a gently rolled ball right into Sky Blue keeper Kailen Sheridan. With just one success on three penalty opportunities this season, it is time for Paul Riley to pick a new PK expert.
The missed PK and the return of Jess McDonald as a sub in the 70th minute briefly rejuvenated the Courage and it looked like they wanted to win for the first time all game. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse when Abby Erceg and Katelyn Rowland both misplayed a ball – Erceg misplayed it so badly that she ran into the post – that was dinked along the center of the box where Sam Kerr happily pushed it in for the game winning goal. If Erceg had stayed in position Kerr would have been offside, but it’s water under the bridge. While I’m roasting players, a special shout out to Mak Doniak who looked slow and ineffective for the second straight game. She has the talent, but something has been off for her lately. I would love to see the Courage switch to a 4-3-3, with Hatch, Williams and McDonald alternating defensive play with offensive prowess while taking Doniak out for a game or two.
Bring on the Reign
There is probably no team in the NWSL that looks stronger than they Reign right now. After knocking off the #3 and #2 teams in consecutive weeks, Seattle is looking to travel across the country and claim the final trophy when they face the #1 Courage. Megan Rapinoe has looked otherworldly all year, as she leads the league with 9 goals in 12 games…the next closest player has 6. The Reign also boast the highest number of total goals on the year, so the defense will definitely be tested. Defense has been the biggest issue for the Reign this season, but they have been better in that category over the last three weeks. Hopefully the Courage will be ready to play against this extremely tough opponent.
The Courage can beat Seattle by playing good, consistent defense and not getting caught out of position after allowing a turnover. Seattle plays fast, counter-attacking soccer that utilizes speed and precise distance passing to get defenders on the wrong foot. The offense runs almost exclusively through Megan Rapinoe who plays on the left side of the pitch and is capable of driving end-line and crossing or cutting inside and shooting. When the ball travels down the right side of the field the play is generally more chaotic, but Naho Kawasumi has a tendency to end up with the ball and she can play a deadly center that often surprises opposing keepers – Naho leads the league in assists this season. My biggest worry is that Doniak will lack the pace to disrupt the quick-developing attack from the Reign while Smith and Hinkle will get caught too far upfield to help defend the sidelines.
This game is going to revolve around the ability of Debhina, Mewis and Zerboni maintain possession in the midfield and avoid some of the sloppy turnovers that they sometimes commit. The Reign typically don’t press high, which will give Erceg and Dahlkemper time to carefully distribute, something they excel at, but the offense frequently becomes too vanilla for the Courage – something that happened against Sky Blue – and the opposing defense becomes able to see the passes before the players are in position to receive them. On offense there will definitely be opportunities for whichever forwards are healthy this weekend, and getting a few clean finishes early should be a priority after the debacle that weekend. I think the Courage can come out and win, sometimes Seattle just doesn’t show up ready to play, but I think a 2-2 draw would be the most likely scenario.
Let’s Work on Throw Ins
As a final though, it always frustrates me to no end when I’m watching a team like Chicago manage to maintain possession on throw ins. The Courage players tend to go with the stand-right-behind-the-opponent strategy… one that rarely earns the team possession of the ball. Sure, that’s the strategy you want to employ when McDonald is chucking it into the box, but it fails miserably in the midfield and we barely win the ball after fighting so hard for the throw in. Paul Riley needs to sit down and analyze how a team like Chicago or Portland manages to find open players on almost every throw and emulate that. If the Courage could get just a few more successful throw ins per game it would make a huge impact on our overall level of play.