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Analysis

NWSL Week 22 Preview: North Carolina Aims for the Shield, Again

North Carolina Courage (15-6-1) at Houston Dash (7-13-2)

Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. EDT, HEB Park
All-time series: Dash lead, 4-2-2
In Houston: Dash lead, 2-1-1
Last meeting: September 9, 2017; 1-0 Courage

Making up for the match that was postponed due to Hurricane Harvey, this is a home game in name only for Houston, as the Dash are traveling further than the Courage would be if they were visiting the Spirit. Houston is locked into eighth place regardless of tonight’s result, but with a number of players out of contract and uncertain offseason on the horizon, this is one of their last chances to make an impression and earn a 2018 return. It’s a different game, same story for North Carolina: a win, and they’ll take home the Shield.

The Dash returned to the scoreboard in last week’s loss against Chicago and looked capable of an equalizer before running out of time. It’s a good sign for Kristie Mewis, who was one of the most active Dash players all game, creating four chances and picking up an assist with a perfectly placed ball for Rachel Daly’s amazing diving header. They’ll want to use Mewis heavily against the Courage, as they’re unlikely to win in the center of the park and should have better success on the flanks. Conversely, the Dash outside backs have to avoid getting caught up the pitch because they won’t be able to overcome the speed of Lynn Williams and Makenzy Doniak.

Every time I suggested the Courage practice squad rotation this season, they’ve proven me wrong, so I’ll give up on that, but now would be the time to do it, although Paul Riley’s tactic may be to claim the Shield now and give his starters as much rest as possible before the playoffs. Regardless, they have one of the deepest benches in the league. But no matter who takes the pitch at opening whistle, they need to press full steam ahead until the game is over. They took their foot off the gas in Sky Blue and it cost them three points they probably should have had, making it the second road game in a row they haven’t won. One to watch is Katelyn Rowland, who made more than one shaky play that could have given up a goal. Williams’ finishing, which has admittedly never been her strongest suit, was also subpar, while Ashley Hatch is finding better success.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jane Campbell

Campbell is a rookie in a position which normally requires a longer maturation than some, and as such she has made the occasional cringe-worthy error, one of which gave up a goal to Chicago last week. However, she’s also kept Houston in games and demonstrated the skills that have her firmly on the USWNT radar, and the Dash could do much worse than to her to build around in the future.

Jaelene Hinkle

Hinkle is a consistent threat on the left flank and will be a particular threat for her service into the box. Whether she faces Claire Falknor or Poliana, they will need to make sure they stay at home enough to limit her excursions up the pitch.

Keep an eye on:
• Whomever scores first – that nearly always determines the outcome of a Dash game

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