Gearing Up for Washington
Last weekend the Courage were supposed to play in Houston, but the game was rightfully cancelled as Hurricane Harvey took an extremely unusual path and flooded large parts of the Texas gulf coast. Fortunately for Courage fans, we won’t have to wait until this Sunday to see our team in action.
Tonight the Courage face off, once again, against the league-worst Washington Spirit. The last time these two teams met was on a blisteringly hot day in North Carolina where the home squad vanquished the visitors from our nation’s capital in a 2-0 game that was much closer than the scoreline suggests. Tonight will be a completely different atmosphere, with temperatures at game time in the low-to-mid 70s. This will certainly help the Courage since they tend to play a bit slower in intense heat.
If the Courage can secure their third win against the Spirit this season they will become the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the 2017 season with 5 games remaining on their schedule. They will also re-extend their lead in the standings to 5 points, making it extremely difficult for the Thorns to catch them before the end of the season. While the Spirit have played the Courage extremely tightly both times this season, the Courage have come away as the better team on both occasions and has secured all 6 available points thusfar.
The Courage lineup has been in flux lately, with coach Paul Riley trying to find the perfect mix of players now that he seems to have a plethora of talent worthy of hitting the pitch. The ascension of Kris Hamilton into the starting lineup has allowed for the rest of the team to play more freely, as Hamilton has a motor that never seems to give up. 2nd overall pick in the 2017 draft, Ashley Hatch, has scored more goals than anyone else on the team and has taken the starting role from Jess McDonald who has been battling with a hamstring injury for much of the season. This has relegated McDonald, Doniak and either Debinha or Denise O’Sullivan to the bench as “super-subs;” each of whom would almost certainly be starting caliber players on most of the other teams in the NWSL.
While many players have seen their minute patterns change, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and McCall Zerboni have all played every minute of every game this season. Barring injury, those three amazing players will likely continue to be the backbone of this Courage team (assuming McCall doesn’t get another yellow card).
The Playoff Picture in Focus
While the Courage didn’t play last weekend, Seattle and FC Kansas City both failed to improve their chances of making the playoffs by losing games they could have tied or won. This means that there are effectively only 5 teams playing for the 4 playoff spots at this point. While it is still technically within the realm of possibility for Seattle to make up their 5 point deficit to either Orlando or Chicago, they have just 4 games remaining. This means that Orlando or Chicago would have to lose 2 of their next 4 games for Seattle to advance, and that is only if Seattle wins their final 4. Like the Courage, Portland have just about clinched their playoff berth, and they sit 5 points ahead of the 3rd place Orlando Pride. Odds are that Portland will take the 1st or 2nd seed.
In the NWSL the first two playoff teams (nearly guaranteed to be the Courage – 39 points – and Thorns – 37 points -) have home games, while the second two teams have away games. While Chicago and Orlando are currently tied at 32 points each, Orlando currently holds the tiebreaker on goal differential. Orlando and Chicago do not play each other again this season, so that will remain the tiebreaker. The only other viable playoff team is Sky Blue FC, currently sitting in 5th with 29 points. Sky Blue does not control their own fate, as they do not play Chicago or Orlando again this season. They will lose a tiebreaker to either team due to head-to-head record between them. Thus, Sky Blue will need Chicago or Orlando to win no more than 2 games this season to make the playoffs, and that is still assuming that they win out. While it certainly isn’t impossible, the playoffs are looking pretty set.
It should be noted that the Courage still play Chicago, Orlando and Sky Blue this season, so our team could have a significant impact on which teams make the playoffs and which don’t.