Match preview: NC Courage at Chicago Red Stars

Can the Courage run it to 8 unbeaten?

The NWSL Shield Champion NC Courage will bring their seven game unbeaten streak to the Windy Suburb as they take on the Chicago Red Stars tonight. After beating the Portland Thorns 2-1 to bring home the top spot in the league for the second time in a row, the Courage will take on the 5th place Red Stars. Chicago is only one point out of the playoff places with a game in hand on 4th place Portland so will be itching to get a win at home this week. For their part, the Courage are looking for their 16th win of the season as they hope to extend their unbeaten streak to eight.

Back after a break in Bridgeview

It’s been nearly a month since the Red Stars last played. A combination of bye weeks, weather delays, and an international break kept them inert for the past four weeks. No doubt, the time has let the team prepare for its stretch run as it hopes to once again make the NWSL playoffs. While the Courage have nailed down the top spot in the league and the Seattle Reign sit in second place, five points ahead of Chicago, it seems like the bottom two playoff seeds are up for grabs. Two points separates the four teams competing for the third and fourth playoff spots and Chicago has a game or two in hand on the current playoffs teams.

A win tonight would go a long way in getting the the team closer to that goal. Obviously it will not be easy with North Carolina in town. Last season, the Red Stars had North Carolina’s number until the playoffs, but this year tables have turned somewhat. The teams drew their first match of the season 1-1, but the Courage absolutely demolished the Red Stars in Cary on July 4th 4-1.

Chicago seems like they have what it takes to give the Courage a good match once again this weekend. The team has scored the fourth most goals in NWSL while allowing the fourth fewest as well. The Red Stars will lean heavily on the scoring prowess of Sam Kerr in the match. The forward has nine goals, good for third in the golden boot race, and leads the league with 32 shots on target. Also getting the team in dangerous positions to score is Danielle Colaprico who has continued to emerge as one of the best midfielders in the league this season. Playing as a deep lying playmaker, Colaprico is second in the league with 40 chances created. Expect the Red Stars to come out and try to play an open game against the Courage, though breaking their press and getting Kerr into positions to score will be a challenge for the club.

The Courage head North

North Carolina has again secured the NWSL Shield and will try to finish the season strong. While the team will not have to worry about playing the Red Stars in Chicago in the playoffs this year, the Courage have struggled against the team in the past with a 2-3-1 record overall against them. The last match between the teams showed that North Carolina can both beat Chicago and convert the 20+ chances a game that the team creates.

With the Red Stars in need of a win, it seems likely that the Courage will once again, as they have all year, press their opponents and try to spring forward on the counter. The Courage aren’t necessarily averse to possession, but it seems like Paul Riley’s system works best when it tries to put teams in difficult positions defensively when they turn the ball over in bad spots on the pitch.

What’s more, with a full week of recovery after last week’s match when players were on short rest from international duty or playing in the ICC, the Courage should be able to field a near first choice roster once again. McCall Zerboni is questionable with an ankle sprain, though she did go the full 90 against Portland.

Lineup prediction:

I have chosen to ignore the questionable status of Zerboni and include her in the lineup. I think if she travels she will start.

How to watch:

With the demise of go90 games are being streamed on www.nwslsoccer.com and the NWSL app.