On Saturday, Reign FC conclude their four-game road trip with a match against the 2018 NWSL Champions, the North Carolina Courage. Their July 13 match in Cary, North Carolina kicks off at 4 PM PT and will stream on Yahoo! Sports (US) and the NWSL website (international).
While neither team started off the season how they’d like, both have moved up the league standings during the World Cup break. Reign FC currently sit at the top of the league with 20 points, despite having between 13 to 17 players injured or at the World Cup. The Courage are in second, just one point behind.
In addition to leading the standings, the two teams lead the league in shots, with the Courage having the upper hand both in shots and goals scored. They head into the weekend with 24 goals, while the Reign just have 12 on the season. The Courage have finished their chances at a better rate than the injury-ridden Reign.
The two clubs have met once already this season, and the Reign did well to withstand North Carolina's relentless attack. On Memorial Day, on Jess Fishlock’s first game back with the team, the Reign earned a 2-1 win and dominated the Courage in the first half. Sadly, after providing a huge spark and winning NWSL Player of the Month in June, Fishlock is now out with an ACL tear.
For this match, the Courage remain without centerback Abby Dahlkemper, midfielders Sam Mewis and Crystal Dunn, and forward Jess McDonald, who all earned a World Cup gold with the United States. Reign FC have Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long back in the Pacific Northwest, but they are also getting some well-deserved rest.
What to Watch
Runs from deep: Outside backs Jaelene Hinkle and Merritt Mathias provide width and speed on the flanks. They are a big reason North Carolina leads the league in crosses, sending in about 21 per match compared to 11 for the Reign. The Courage often unleash crosses or diagonal long balls from deep and have scored three goals with their head — and a lot more from deflections and poor clearances in the box.
Late threats: The Courage score the majority of their goals in the second half, while giving up most of their goals in the first. If the Reign score first, they have to hold firm for the rest of the match. The North Carolina onslaught is coming. It happened when the Reign hosted the Courage at home in May — when a number of late pushes nearly saw North Carolina earn an equalizer.
High press and high pressure: Centerback Abby Erceg is currently listed as questionable. That means North Carolina could have a young centerback pairing. The now trademark Reign high press would be smart to target this spot and look to win back the ball high up the field.
Kristen Hamilton: Hamilton was the final pick in the 2014 draft and has mostly been used as a utility player and sub for the Courage. She scored six goals over her first five years in the NWSL. This year, she’s been on a different level. The midfielder netted seven goals in her last three games, including four last week against Houston. Hamilton is sneaky and dangerous in the box.
Jaelene Hinkle: Along with Lynn Williams — another attacking threat for the Courage — Hinkle leads the league in assists. She’s got a strong cross from the left side of the field and is a dangerous set-piece taker. Her runs up the sideline can expose some space in behind that a player like Shea Groom could easily exploit.
Debinha: The Brazilian had a tremendous World Cup tournament and has continued her form upon returning to North Carolina. The attacking midfielder is aggressive and creative on the ball. Disrupting her helps disrupt the entire Courage attack.
Absences: Injury, international duty and suspension
OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (SEI – Knee), Taylor Smith (SEI – Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI – Achilles), Scout Watson (SEI – Concussion), Jaycie Johnson (SEI – Knee), Jessica Fishlock (SEI – Knee), Darian Jenkins (Hamstring), Morgan Andrews (Hamstring), Rumi Utsugi (Calf), Stephanie Cox (Calf)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Megan Rapinoe (USA), Allie Long (USA), Jodie Taylor (ENG)
OUT: Hailey Harbison (Left Knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Abby Erceg (Right Lower Leg), Ryan Williams (Right Ankle), Julie King (Left Thigh)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Abby Dahlkemper (USA), Crystal Dunn (USA), Jessica McDonald (USA), Samantha Mewis (USA)
By the Numbers
5-1-5, 20 points | 12 goals for, 9 goals against
Bethany Balcer: 3 goals, 1 assist
Casey Murphy: 16 saves, 3 goals against, 3 clean sheets
North Carolina Courage
5-2-4, 19 points | 24 goals for, 12 goals against
Lynn Williams: 4 goals, 4 assists | Kristen Hamilton: 7 goals, 1 assist
Katelyn Rowland: 10 saves, 9 goals allowed
Reign FC v. North Carolina Courage kicks off on Saturday, July 13 at 4 PM PT in Cary, NC. The game will stream on Yahoo! and the NWSL website for international fans. We’ll have a separate gamethread to discuss the match.