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To make it count: Utah Royals FC vs. North Carolina Courage match preview

Utah Royals FC return to Rio Tinto Stadium to face the North Carolina Courage for the third and final time for the 2019 regular season.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Match Details

Utah Royals FC (9-7-4)
@ North Carolina Courage (13-4-4)

When: Saturday, September 21 | 7:00 PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, UT

Weather: 65 degrees, sunny

TV: N/A

Live Stream: Yahoo Sports app, KSL app, NWSLSoccer.com

Radio: ESPN 700

Instead of potentially playing without Christen Press and Vero Boquete, Utah Royals FC caught a break last Wednesday, as the game against Reign FC was postponed due to unplayable field conditions after heavy rain over the last several days. The match has been rescheduled to Wednesday, September 25. But that break and slight sigh of relief was short. Utah returned home to prepare for league-leading North Carolina Courage, a game that could have Press and Boquete missing this match. Both are listed as questionable.

Utah vs. North Carolina Courage 2019 meetings: 2
-May 19, 2019 - Sahlen’s Stadium
NC 1; URFC 1
-July 27, 2019 - Rio Stadium Stadium
NC 2; URFC 1

All-Time Series Record: 1-1-3

For Utah, a shift in focus

Utah enters Saturday’s game with lessons from losing 2-1 to the Houston Dash, instead of their postponed game on Wednesday, which may have bought them more time to figure out better tactics and shift their focus to the Courage. Utah still remains in contention for the playoffs, but this final stretch against North Carolina, Reign FC, Chicago, and Houston will not be an easy one. Every point won and lost matters now. Should Utah lose more than two of these four games, they can start preparing for 2020 instead.

Really, it’s all up to Utah and how they decide to play these final games. Royals FC are twelve points away from first place North Carolina Courage, five from third place, and seven points away from the second place spot. The gap in points has certainly widened, so if Utah hopes to make the post-season, they cannot drop out of the 4th spot.

For now, the attention is all on the mighty North Carolina Courage, a team Utah has drawn once and lost to this season. Utah, however, tends to play the Courage well, losing only once in their five meetings.

URFC Stats

Clean Sheets: 10
Goals Conceded: 17
Goals Conceded (per game): 0.8
Total Shots: 193
Shots on Target: 94
Goals Scored: 21
Leading scorers: Amy Rodriguez - 8 goals; Christen Press - 6 goals

Keys to winning:

  • Play like you want to make the postseason. Utah tends to settle and play like the teams they play. If they play a top team, they tend to be more competitive. If they play a team near the bottom of the table, they play like a team at the bottom of the table. In the game against Houston, Utah failed to pressure, and when they had the ball, the ball failed to move forward. It’s too late in the season to do that. Utah must play like they want their season to continue. They must work to create chances and play with resiliency. Simply, they are going to have to play their best game of football versus a very good North Carolina team.

  • Stop North Carolina’s scoring chances. North Carolina comes to Utah on a five-game winning streak. Most impressively, outscoring their opponents 16 to 2 in those five games. Utah must figure out how to stop that high-press style.

Utah Royals FC Injury Report

OUT: Brittany Ratcliffe (SEI-Left Knee), Taylor Lytle (SEI-Left Foot), Becca Moros (Right Leg), Kelley O’Hara (Left Ankle), Mandy Laddish (Right Hip), Makenzy Doniak (Left Foot), Sydney Miramontez (Right Foot)

QUESTIONABLE: Vero Boquete (Left Thigh), Christen Press (Left Leg)

So...How good is the North Carolina Courage?

Record: 13-4-4 (43 points, 1st place)
Head Coach: Paul Riley
Clean Sheets: 8
Goals Conceded: 19
Goals Conceded (per game): 0.9
Total Shots: 327
Shots on Target: 147
Goals Scored: 47

Players to Watch: Lynn Williams - 11 goals, 5 assists; Kristen Hamilton - 9 goals, 5 assists; Debinha - 6 goals, 6 assists
Stephanie Labbe - 27 saves, 9 goals against, 7 clean sheets

There’s no doubt about it, or that we would we have time to question it, the Courage is a good team, the best team in the NWSL, playing their best and looking more and more like heavy favorites to win the NWSL Championship again. As stated already, the Courage have won their last five games, outscoring their opponents 16 to 2.

To read more on how North Carolina is doing, we reached out to Aaron Bellamy of Dirty South Soccer ahead of this game for some insight. Read it here!

North Carolina Courage Injury Report

OUT: Hailey Harbison (Left Knee), Leah Pruitt (Right Knee), Merritt Mathias (Left Knee)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Prediction

Honestly, this is a game that makes me super nervous. North Carolina had back-to-back six-game goals recently. First, 6-0 against Portland Thorns IN Portland, and then 6-1 against the Orland Pride. But the Houston Dash slowed them down last week to 1-0, and if it wasn’t for a questionable call, it might have ended 0-0. Utah needs a win here, for sure. Anything less than three points will likely hurt their chances for the playoffs. Should Utah buckle up their defense, it’s a 1-0 win or a 0-0 draw or a 1-1 draw. They may be without Christen Press, however, who may miss the game due to a left leg injury, and that will be certainly impact Utah’s offensive spark.