Leesburg, VA., (07/08/2021) – The Washington Spirit will face the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, July 10 at 7:00 p.m. ET at Audi Field. The match will be broadcast on Paramount+ for fans in the United States and Twitch for international viewers.
Saturday evening’s match will be the first regular season meeting between the two clubs since the 2019 season and will be the first of three meetings this season. At the first match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Presented by Secret, the Spirit fell 3-2 to the Courage.
Since its founding over four years ago, the North Carolina Courage have been a dominant team in the NWSL. In three seasons, the Courage made three NWSL finals, winning back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019. And while a rocky start this season raised many question marks about the extended dominance of the franchise, a string of several victories within the last month has certainly put any doubt to bed.
After winning four games in a row, it’s fair to say the Courage are the hottest team in the NWSL. Following a 2-0 victory against the then-first place Orlando Pride, the Courage captured the lone spot atop the NWSL standings with 16 points. After a slow start out of the gate to begin the 2021 season, the Courage sit at a 5-2-1 record.
A key to North Carolina’s success is its offensive firepower. The Courage have had no trouble finding the back of the net, scoring 13 goals in their last five competitions. The attack has been led by Lynn Williams, who has established herself as a premier offensive talent this season. Williams leads the NWSL in goals (five), shots (28), and shots on target (14). Williams will be unavailable for the Courage this weekend as she travels with the USWNT to Tokyo as an alternate for the Olympics. Carson Pickett has helped set up many of these goals, tied for first place in the NWSL in assists with three.
That said, perhaps the key to the Courage’s hot streak is consistency from its backline. In its last six games, North Carolina has allowed only two goals. Furthermore, goalkeeper Casey Murphy has been on a hot streak with three consecutive clean sheets, tallying four total on the season.
Though, the scariest element of the Courage’s recent success may be that they’ve found success while balancing a fluctuating lineup, especially in recent games. The Courage have four players competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, including key players like Williams, Sam Mewis, Abby Erceg, and Debinha.
After dropping a home game to the Chicago Red Stars, 1-0, last Friday, the Washington Spirit took a tumble in the NWSL standings, falling to sixth place. The Spirit are in a tough battle in the middle of the table as only three points separates the fourth (Houston – 13 points) and eighth place (Racing Louisville – 10 points) teams in the standings. Only the top six teams advance to the NWSL Playoffs.
The Spirit, who have earned 12 points with a 3-2-3 record, are looking to steal three crucial points against the top team in the NWSL this Saturday. This will be no small task, as historically the Courage have dominated the Spirit. Since the Courage’s inaugural season in 2017, the Spirit have garnered only one win – which came at the end of the 2019 regular season – in eleven total matches.
A key to the Spirit’s success will be maintaining a solid backline, despite the absence of Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnet who are preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with the USWNT. The Spirit have conceded more than one goal only once this season, which came against Racing Louisville in late May. The defense will be put to the test by perhaps the hottest frontline in the league.
Finally, better execution by the Spirit attack is key in securing three points this weekend. The Spirit dominated possession against the Red Stars and also accrued 13 shots, but only landed one shot on target, earned a paltry three corner attempts, and were unable to score a goal.
Trinity Rodman, the youngest player ever drafted in NWSL history, is arguably one of the biggest risers in the league this season. Rodman, third in the league in shots (22) and shots on target (12), has cemented herself as a true offensive talent; however, she cannot lead the offense alone.
After a hot start to the 2021 campaign, Ashley Hatch will look to rebound from some small knocks to regain her scoring touch. Her attacking partner, Ashley Sanchez, has also shown flashes of greatness – including a 78th-minute goal against Kansas City – and is due for a stretch of good form.
With international competition ramping up and the mass departure of key players around the league, Richie Burke’s Spirit lineups must showcase their depth and flexibility at multiple positions in order to make the climb back up the standings.