Today at 6:00 pm Eastern time the Courage will face off for this third time this season against the Chicago Red Stars. In both of the previous games against Chicago the Courage have been bested, making Chicago the only team in the league that the Courage have yet to beat, given the opportunity (the Courage have not yet played the Houston Dash due to Hurricane Harvey). This weekend will mark the final opportunity for the Courage to vanquish the Red Stars in regular season play, although there is a good chance that they will face them in the playoffs.
In hindsight, today’s game will provide the Courage with their best opportunity of the season to beat the Red Stars after their first two meetings were marred with unfortunate circumstances. In the first meeting, Abby Erceg was suspended after receiving a red card in the previous match against Orlando. Jess McDonald was started on defense instead of Taylor Smith, and the Courage never could find a rhythm with their crazy lineup. In the second match, just 7 days later and with only 3 days of rest, the Courage suffered the season-ending ACL injury to defender Yuri Kawamura and Sam Witteman got the start for some unknown reason. In both of those games Sabrina D’Angelo got the start and in both games the Red Stars scored three goals. Those would be D’Angelo’s last two starts of the season and Kate Rowland has allowed just 6 goals since that fateful game on Memorial Day weekend.
Now, instead of the Courage being in a state of flux, we have discovered a lineup that definitely works, even if we don’t produce quite as many scoring opportunities as we did back then. The defensive line of Dahlkemper, Erceg, Hinkle and Smith has not been changed in months. Mak Doniak has been flourishing in her role as a substitute while Kris Hamilton has become one of the most integral pieces of the Courage lineup. Ashley Hatch and Jess McDonald share scoring duties, allowing both players to stay fresh and healthy. Mewis and Zerboni continue to be forces in the center of the park, but their chemistry has improved significantly since those early games. In all, the team is completely remade since those last two losses against Chicago in May.
If the Courage win any of their next 5 games they will earn a home playoff berth in their inaugural season, something few people expected after they backed into the playoffs in 2016. The Red Stars are clinging on to their playoff position for dear life. After briefly taking the #1 spot in the standings from the Courage in week 14 when the game between Kansas City and North Carolina was rained out, the next 4 weeks have seen the Red Stars drop all the way to 4th. If they fail to win today they will be in serious peril as they could fall into a tie with Sky Blue (assuming Sky Blue wins) and would be in danger of missing the playoffs entirely with their final 3 games of the season on the road.