What You’ll Watch
Seattle Reign FC return from a road trip adventure on the east coast for a home match against the top team in the league, the North Carolina Courage. This is the second of three meetings between the two clubs this season. A depleted Reign FC squad fell 1-0 to the Courage during a mid-week match on the road in April.
The Courage currently sit in first place with a record of 9-1-3 (30 points in 13 games played; 2.3 ppg) while Reign FC are in second with a record of 5-2-4 (19 points in 11 games played; 1.7 ppg). The last time out, North Carolina suffered its first loss of the season thanks to a last-minute Utah goal. Reign FC battled to yet another 0-0 draw on the road against the Washington Spirit.
A Look at the Enemy
Last Five: L-T-W-W-W with 12 goals scored and seven conceded
Leading Goal Scorer: Crystal Dunn and Jess McDonald, four each
Assist Leader: Dunn, McDonald, Jaelene Hinkle, and Denise O’Sullivan, three each
Injury Report and Suspensions
QUESTIONABLE: Lynn Williams (right hamstring strain)
OUT: Yael Averbuch (illness), Lauren Barnes (concussion), Jess Fishlock (right quad strain), Jaycie Johnson (right knee sprain – D45)
REFEREE: Lukasz Szpala
AR1: Adrienne McDonald
AR2: Eric Ehrhardt
4th: Levi Rippy
What to Watch
North Carolina is an incredibly predictable team that rarely shifts tactics. Usually, this is a huge weakness for a team. Not North Carolina. They play one way, but they play it really, really well. There’s a reason the Courage have only one loss this season.
So what is NC’s style? Direct, athletic, speedy football. The team typically lines up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, relying on their outside backs for width in the attack. Those outside backs — Jaelene Hinkle and former Reign FC player Merritt Mathias — get into the attack early and often. Hinkle in particular is a huge part of North Carolina’s attack. She is fifth in the league in touches per 90 minutes, and her three assists demonstrate her ability to whip in some dangerous balls from the left.
When the Courage are pressing, it looks more like a 3-3-4 formation. It’s an onslaught of players running toward you, and the only way to defend them is to keep everyone in front of you. North Carolina’s objective is to get as many shots off as possible, and they’ve taken 74 more than anyone else this year. These shots aren’t always on target, but a teammate is often in position to pounce on a deflection.
The Courage also have put in nearly 100 more crosses than anyone else in the league — a number that shows how much they like to use their width. They’re also the most accurate crossers in the league, so Seattle’s centerbacks will have to be tightly marking those runs into the box.
Defensively, the team has one of the best centerback pairings in the league in Abby Dahlkemper and Abby Erceg. They will be one Abby lighter this match, as Dahlkemper returned from USWNT camp with knee pain. McCall Zerboni also provides significant cover to the backline and has put in an MVP-worthy season so far.
Where the Courage really succeed defensively, however, is their ability to win the ball back so quickly in all parts of the field — a similar tactic to the one deployed by Seattle. Their relentless pressure means that opponents have to move the ball quickly and with precision. Luckily, Seattle has the tools to do this.
- Push hard in the second half. Seattle has struggled to get momentum in the second half of matches, and that’s dangerous against North Carolina, who have scored 16 of their 24 goals in the second half. On the flip side, however, 10 of 12 goals they conceded have come in the second half. If Seattle can dictate the game for those last 45 minutes, they’ll have the upper hand on the scoresheet.
- Don’t let their attackers get in behind. North Carolina is fast. Really fast. And they love to send direct balls to the front line. Keep the play in front of the backline at all times.
- Own the midfield. If Seattle can create chaos in the middle of the field, they have the potential to break down a stalwart Courage defense. But that will really only be possible if they can spray balls wide and through the midfield.
- Stop Crystal Dunn. As if North Carolina wasn’t dangerous already, they added Dunn to their attack this year. After spending time in England, where they focus on a more technical style of play, Dunn’s skillsets are more diverse than ever.
How to Watch
Date/Time: Saturday, June 23 @ 1:00 PM PT
Location: UW Medicine Pitch at Memorial Stadium, Seattle