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Week 16 Preview: FCKC and North Carolina make up for lost time

Christina Gibbons and Lynn Williams go head-to-head in their teams' first meeting this season. (photo by Lewis Gettier)

In a rescheduled match from Week 14, North Carolina travels to FC Kansas City to play a game that seemed destined to never happen on July 22. After pushing the start time back twice due to excessive heat, a thunderstorm rolled in and stopped play after nearly 40 minutes, during which time neither side had scored.

North Carolina FC (10-5-0) at FC Kansas City (3-7-5)

Thursday, 8:00 p.m. EDT, Swope Soccer Village
All-time series: tied, 4-4-3
In Kansas City: Kansas City lead, 2-1-2
Last meeting: June 3, 2017; 2-0 Courage

Last weekend against Boston, FCKC took an early lead, quickly lost it, and came from behind to steal a point at the last minute, putting an end to their four-match losing streak, although they are on an eight-game winless streak that began on June 3, the last time they played North Carolina. The bright side is that they are scoring, but they still can’t keep the ball out of their own net. Desiree Scott returned to a more active role in the attack, including a 60-yard dribble that led to their first goal, and continued play from her will improve their chances. The team gets Becky Sauerbrunn and Sydney Leroux back from international duty, which is particularly a boon on defense although Sydney Miramontez did well in her first professional match. Sauerbrunn brings organization to a defense that few can match. The left side of their backline was a weak point, with Becca Moros taking the spot after Christina Gibbons moved to midfield, and they need to shore it up lest Makenzy Doniak expose it.

The Courage are on a funny streak of their own – five games which have alternated between wins and losses. By that pattern, they’re due to lose, but Lynn Williams may have a few things to say about that, as she returned to her goal-scoring ways against Seattle last week. The duo of Williams and Hatch up top has left Jess McDonald as a weapon off the bench, which may surprise some, but as the Courage have regained the top spot they’ve held for the majority of the season, it seems to be working. Three points tonight could go a long way toward getting a little separation from Chicago and Portland as the race to the Shield heads for the finish line. To do so, they want to maintain their high press and attack from the flanks while making sure Leroux doesn’t slip behind their backline. Head coach Paul Riley may switch up his lineup for this midweek game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Christina Gibbons

After spending the first half of the season at left back with mixed results, Gibbons has found a home in central midfield, which has been hurt by injuries and player departures. She’s not a Lauren Holiday, but she does provide a crucial link between Scott and the forward line that has been missing.

Ashley Hatch

It took a while for Hatch to earn significant playing time, but a few injuries gave her an opportunity that she has yet to relinquish. Hatch is a fast, dynamic forward who has visibly improved since the beginning of the season and is tied with Williams as the Courage’s leading scorer.

Keep an eye on:
• Substitutes, as each team plays again Sunday

{Read More: NWSL Week in Review: To rest or not to rest?}

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