Utah Royals FC host the top team in the league as North Carolina Courage travel to Utah. The Courage have won their last five games and are looking extremely dangerous. The Royals need every point they can get to remain in the playoff picture. We reached out to Aaron Bellamy of Dirty South Soccer ahead of this game:
The Courage have won their last 5 games, and have outscored their opponents 16 to 2 in that time. What has changed for the Courage to make them such an incredible force after mixed results earlier in the season?
The team really increased their efficiency in the two big wins, but the main difference has been the return of the USWNT players at full fitness. A lot of people disagreed with the decision to play a friendly tournament in the middle of the season, but I loved the idea. There is no team in the world like Lyon, and the opportunity to storm back against Manchester City and fight a really hard match against Lucy Bronze, Wendie Renard, Dzsenifer Marozsan, et al. really lit a fire under this team. The Courage have won every game since that tournament, and they’re almost guaranteed to win a home playoff berth at this point.
Houston Dash were able to keep NCC to just one goal, what went well for the Courage in that game and what caused them to score so few goals?
The Dash defense did an amazing job of closing down on the Courage in the midfield, cutting off passing lanes, and forcing the midfielders to take shots from outside the box. They locked down the flanks and forced the midfielders to drive the ball right down the center of the park, then they cut them off right at the top of the box. Jaelene Hinkle and Merritt Mathias (RIP) were both too tentative moving up the flanks because of the threat of a Rachel Daly counter, so it took the flow out of our offense. It also helped that Jane Campbell made an amazing save against Crystal Dunn in the first half and then Dunn hit the underside of the crossbar with a great shot in the second half. Lynn Williams had a wide-open header that she sent high. The offensive efficiency just wasn’t there. There was probably some tired leg factor as well, but that’s not a valid excuse.
Will the Courage win the double for the second straight year in a row? How do you see their final games of the season shaping up?
They will definitely win the NWSL Shield, and they’re favorites to win the championship as well...but right now I’d say it really depends on who they play. Chicago matches up perfectly against the Courage. Sam Kerr can beat our defense all by herself, which allows the Red Stars to bunker. That’s basically what Houston did, but Chicago is more talented. I think Reign FC and Portland Thorns FC are much better matchups. Utah would be the wild card, and I could see a match between the two teams going either way. The Courage should close out the season with relative ease. Whether they win or lose on the road against Utah, they should be able to dispatch of the Washington Spirit and SBFC with relative ease. I’d love to see them score 7 goals over the next three games to break their scoring record from last season, but it’s going to be tough.
You can read our responses to Aaron’s questions at Dirty South Soccer.