It’s beginning to feel like an age-old question, but every week we wonder if this is the day North Carolina loses their first game of the season. Only one game on tap this Wednesday, but it’s the last game in which we’ll see the USWNT call ups until after the international break – eight players in this match. With all that talent, and more, we could see a barn burner to kick off NWSL Week 10.
Can Portland take advantage of North Carolina’s finishing issues?
North Carolina Courage (8-0-2) at Portland Thorns FC (4-3-3)
Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. EDT, Providence Park
All-time series: Thorns lead, 6-4-3 (plus 2-0-1 playoffs)
The last time these two teams met, an anemic Portland managed only one shot on goal out of three total, while North Carolina racked up 20 shots but only put four on target. The Courage pulled out the win off a 70th minute goal from Debinha, and the match would come to be a preview of their season thus far – strong defense, dominant offense, and abysmal finishing. They’ve won or drawn every game so far, but only two of those victories have been by a margin of more than one goal.
- Thorns injuries: OUT – Adrianna Franch, Bella Geist, Meg Morris, Hayley Raso, Emily Sonnett
- Courage injuries: OUT – Sabrina D’Angelo, Makenzy Doniak, Yuri Kawamura, Julie King, Denise O’Sullivan; QUE – Jaelene Hinkle
Portland, meanwhile, has had a mixed bag. The return of Emily Menges to the starting lineup coincided with their first two shutouts of the season, both wins that ended a five-game winless streak, including two straight losses at home. Their recent wins have at least ended their downhill slide, but both were against teams on the bottom third of the table. To withstand the North Carolina attack, Portland will have to dig deep on defense, perhaps playing their wingbacks a bit more conservatively to block the Courage flank runners, or revert to the four-back they went with last week to cover for the missing Emily Sonnett, who remains out. Christine Sinclair leads the league in goals and is tied for the lead in assists (tied with three Courage players, among others), so if the Thorns can make something happen against what is likely the best midfield in the league, albeit one missing Denise O’Sullivan, she stands a good chance of getting one past Katelyn Rowland. Keep an eye on the Tobin Heath-Merritt Mathias matchup, sure to be a feisty one.
HOT … OR NOT?
Jaelene Hinkle: One of those tied with Sinclair for league-leading assists, Hinkle is having the season of her life.
Tobin Heath: It took her a few weeks to become consistently effective, but Heath is now fully reintegrated as a key part of the Thorns’ attack.
Lindsey Horan’s discipline: She’s the first player this season to reach the verge of yellow card suspension, and she did so with a silly card for kicking away a dead ball.
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CARY, N.C.— Paul Riley doesn’t regularly hear from North Carolina Courage...