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Reign FC v. NC Courage: Preview and Scouting Report

With seven games remaining, every point is crucial for the Reign.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

With seven matches remaining in the regular season, Reign FC are on the hunt for points to remain in contention for a coveted playoff spot. Currently sitting in fifth place, the team heads to North Carolina to take on the Courage, who sit one point above them in third place.

The game kicks off at 4 PM PT and will stream on Yahoo! Sports.

This is the third time the two sides are facing off this season. Reign FC got the better of North Carolina at Cheney Stadium before being dominated on the road in July. It’s possible we shouldn’t take too much from that second match, as the club had to — once again — make two subs before halftime due to injuries. The team was also completing a four-game road trip, where they exceeded expectations by earning nine points in the first three matches.

Ah, injuries. While Reign enter the match with 12 players on the injury report (yes, 12!), the Courage come in with just three. How rude. The Tacoma-based club will need to put forward a consistent performance over their 90 minutes of play on Saturday. If they do, a victory is possible and they could jump to as high as second in the standings.

So what are their chances? Get to know Reign FC’s weekend competition, the North Carolina Courage.

What to Watch

Wide from deep, narrow in the attack: North Carolina plays in a 4-2-2-2 formation. That means they rely on their speedy outside backs — Jaelene Hinkle and Merritt Mathias — to provide width on the flanks. These two are a big reason North Carolina leads the league in crosses, with the team sending in about 25 per match (compared to 16 for the Reign). The Courage often unleash crosses or diagonal long balls from deep. With tall players in their attack, those crosses are scary and dangerous.

Weathering the storm: North Carolina comes out of the gates swinging at the start of each half, putting nonstop pressure on opponents. Against Portland just two weeks ago, it looked as if the Courage might score multiple goals in the first 15 minutes. They only managed one, as finishing is a common struggle for the Courage — although not a huge issue for a team that has already scored 31 goals in 16 matches, I should note. The Reign are going to need to play tight defense and get rid of the ball smartly in their defensive third, as North Carolina will be ready to pounce on anything. If they can weather that storm, the Reign should establish some rhythm — and possibly sneak in a goal, as the Courage looked shaky in the final 45 minutes against Portland when trying to handle crosses.

Set pieces and long throws: The Courage are really good in the air. That makes them dangerous on set pieces and throw-ins, as forward Jess McDonald can launch a ball into the box on a throw-in. Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski is likely to roll out a taller lineup or feature players who are good at winning the ball in the air. They also need to watch out for the quick corners that North Carolina whips up, where Sam Mewis gets a short pass and whips in a pinpoint cross. Those have caused all sorts of trouble for opponents.

Key Players

Denise O’Sullivan: The midfielder isn’t likely to lead the offensive or defensive stat lines, but she is critical to how the Courage like to play. She covers so much ground and is an aggressive defender. Don’t expect O’Sullivan to get too involved in the attack, but her fitness and work rate to win the ball back means that players like Sam Mewis have more freedom to focus on unlocking the attack and finding space.

Sam Mewis: Speaking of Mewis, who had a breakout performance in the World Cup, the U.S. midfielder is one of the smoothest passers in the game. She helps North Carolina move the ball quickly up the field. They don’t prioritize building play from the back and possessing the ball. For them, it’s about how they quickly can get into goal-scoring positions. Mewis can switch the ball, send pinpoint through balls, and work in tight spaces. The Reign midfield will need to stay glued to her.

Crystal Dunn: It doesn’t really matter who the Courage roll out on the front line, as their strengths are consistent: speed and high pressure on defense. The Courage really shine when they involve Dunn in the game. There isn’t much she can’t do — she is allowed to roam freely in the attack, which can mean serving as a third forward or playing the role of creator. Dunn has a strong shot from distance and is hard to push off the ball. She terrifies me, as she’s dangerous in any spot in the field.

Absences: Injury, international duty and suspension

Reign FC

OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (SEI - Knee), Taylor Smith (SEI - Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI - Right Achilles), Jaycie Johnson (SEI - Right Knee), Scout Watson (SEI - Concussion), Jessica Fishlock (SEI - Left Knee), Lydia Williams (45D - Left Ankle), Stephanie Cox (Right Calf), Rumi Utsugi (Left Calf), Megan Rapinoe (L Achilles), Kristen McNabb (L Soleus), Shea Groom (Rib)

North Carolina

OUT: Hailey Harbison (Left Knee), Leah Pruitt (Right Knee)

QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Williams (Right Ankle)

By the Numbers

Reign FC

7-4-6, 27 points, 5th place | 16 goals for, 19 goals against

  • Last 5: L, W, W, L, T
  • Shots: 197 | On target: 76
  • Bethany Balcer: 3 goals, 1 assist
  • Casey Murphy: 41 saves, 13 goals against, 5 clean sheets

North Carolina

8-4-4, 28 points, 3rd place | 31 goals for, 17 goals against

  • Last 5: W, L, W, W, L
  • Shots: 242 | On target: 110
  • Kristen Hamilton: 8 goals, 3 assists | Lynn Williams: 6 goals, 5 assists
  • Stephanie Labbe: 21 saves, 7 goals against, 4 clean sheets

This is bound to be a tough match, but a Reign win is possible.

Reign FC kicks off against the Courage at 4 PM PT on Saturday, August 24 in Cary, North Carolina. The match will stream on Yahoo! Sports and via ESPN’s international partners for fans outside the U.S. We’ll have a separate gamethread to discuss the match.

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