NWSL soccer is back! After taking a week off for the FIFA international break, Seattle Reign FC (6-3-6) is back in action on Saturday, August 5. The squad returns to Cary, North Carolina, for its second match against the North Carolina Courage (9-5-0) this season. After falling 2-0 to the Courage in July, Seattle will be looking for some crucial road points before facing North Carolina at home the next weekend.
The match kicks off at 4:30 PM PT, and thanks to a number of competitions played during the international break, lineups and sub decisions could look quite different for both teams.
Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe played all three matches in the Tournament of Nations—going 90, 90, and 73 minutes over the course of a week, looking like the best player on the squad for large portions of the match, and scoring two goals. She’s certainly proven she’s fit and healthy this season, but Laura Harvey may not want to risk starting Rapinoe on just two days of rest.
Rumi Utsugi suited up for Japan, going a full 90 in her first and third match, and subbing on at halftime in the second. With Jess Fishlock still recovering from a knee injury (though now listed as questionable), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Utsugi start in the midfield to help shield the backline against a dangerous North Carolina attack. Rachel Corsie also played three games for Scotland in the UEFA Women’s Euro, but she’s had more than a week to recover.
The Courage, meanwhile, had five players competing in the Tournament of Nations. Right back Taylor Smith, who was quite effective at closing down Rapinoe in the first Seattle-North Carolina match, played 193 minutes over three games in her U.S. Women’s National Team debut. She’s young and probably has the energy to start for the Courage, but she might not have as much in the tank this time around.
Abby Dahlkemper held down the U.S. backline as centerback, playing every minute of all three matches. Samantha Mewis featured in all but four minutes for the U.S. in the midfield, while Debinha played 196 minutes for Brazil. Forward Lynn Williams, meanwhile, only saw 18 minutes in total and should be well rested for Saturday’s match.
What does all this mean for Saturday’s match? Both squads will have some tired legs, so bench depth and fitness are going to be critical. For Seattle, the team has to be stronger in the midfield. The last time they faced the Courage, McCall Zerboni stole the show and dictated play throughout the second half. In that game, North Carolina put in 29 shots, compared to Seattle’s 13.
Just six of those NC shots were on goal, however, which has been a fairly consistent theme for the Courage this year. They’re an offensively minded team that plays very direct and isn’t afraid to cross and shoot from anywhere. What Seattle has to avoid this time around is silly mistakes and poor clearances. Clean defending will allow them to walk away with one point—or even three.
In addition to worrying about tired bodies from international play, North Carolina has a mid-week game to factor in after facing Seattle. Their July 22 match at Kansas City was canceled due to lightning and rescheduled for Wednesday, August 10. Head coach Paul Riley has some tough decisions to make—does he rest players for a home game against a team with a dangerous attack, or rest them on Wednesday for a road match against a team that is still struggling to connect on offense?
The Courage do have a few new players who could be called on this week, as the team just signed Norwegian defender Nora Holstad, a 30-year-old who has competed for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga since 2014, and midfielder Denise O’Sullivan, a midfielder from Ireland who until just last week played for the Houston Dash.
Saturday’s match against North Carolina will be available to stream on a number of platforms: go90 (app and website), NWSL (app and website), and for the first time ever, on the Huffington Post Women Facebook page, which launched a new partnership with go90 to stream one NWSL match each week on Facebook.
Seattle: OUT: Diana Matheson (SEI – left knee ACL tear); QUESTIONABLE: Jess Fishlock (left knee MCL sprain)
North Carolina: OUT: Darian Jenkins (D45 – left ankle dislocation/fracture), Yuri Kawamura (SEI – right knee ACL and meniscus tear)