On Wednesday, September 27th the Courage will travel to Edinburg, Texas to face off against the Houston Dash in a game that was postponed because of Hurricane Harvey. That postponement has dragged on longer than was initially expected, though, and the game has finally been scheduled for a Wednesday during the final week of the season. The game on Wednesday will mark the fourth time this season that the Courage have had to play a mid-week game, with three of those games coming on the road. No other team will have played more than 3 times during the week (Kansas City and Houston) while the other 7 teams have all played just 2 mid-week games.
International Break and Playoff Implications
The truth is that I was secretly hoping that the game would be cancelled entirely, because playing 3 games in a week is already a brutal prospect – especially the week leading up to the playoffs. The Houston Dash have already been eliminated and the Courage can clinch the #1 spot in the standings and the Supporters’ Shield by winning their two regularly scheduled games in New Jersey on Sunday, Sept 24th and at home against Orlando on Saturday, Sept 30th. If Portland were to lose or tie one of their games, the Courage could even afford to win just once. Now the calculus is different, with the Courage needing to win just 2 of the 3 remaining games in order to secure the top spot in the league. While this extra game is good in that regard, it will likely force coach Paul Riley into an extremely difficult decision come the 30th. Hosting the Orlando Pride, a team that boasts dual superstars in Alex Morgan and Marta, always brings out a massive crowd, so there will be the natural interest in impressing the home fans and hoping they come out to the home playoff game the next weekend. On the other hand, the players will be facing their 3rd game in just 6 days after traveling from New Jersey to Texas and back to North Carolina. Giving the players a rest seems logical if the playoff seeding is already set in stone. Further complicating the decision, it is possible that the Courage winning or losing this game will determine whether they play the Pride, Red Stars or Reign in their first playoff game. I personally see the Pride as the most difficult team, but would the coaching staff be willing to throw the final game in order to get a perceived easier opponent? I doubt Paul Riley would do that, but it’s something that occasionally happens in soccer tournaments and could come into play here. If, on the other hand, Orlando loses to Portland when they face off on September 23rd then the Courage would have a vested interesting in trying to keep Orlando out of the playoffs if they can.
As if all of that wasn’t enough to consider, four players from the Courage will be participating in the friendly matches against New Zealand on Friday, Sept 15th and Tuesday, Sept 19th. With Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Taylor Smith and Lynn Williams all slated for the USWNT, along with Denise O’Sullivan playing with Ireland, Debinha playing with Brazil, and Nora Holstad playing for Norway there will be a lot of tired players leading up to that 3-game week. Of course, it wouldn’t be a unique situation. Dahlkemper, Mewis and Smith all played most of the 3-game Tournament of Nations before returning to their club team and playing another 3-game week. The Courage players were some of the only USWNT players that chose to in the week following that tournament, so I don’t expect it to be a major concern. The biggest issue with playing and travelling so much is that each added game will increase the injury risk for those absolutely essential players for this team. I’m glad that I don’t have to be the one to make the final decisions when the season is on the line.