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NWSL week 15 preview: Is North Carolina really the deepest team?

Chicago Red Stars (5-3-7) at North Carolina Courage (11-1-3)
Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. EDT, Sahlen’s Stadium
All-time series: Red Stars lead, 7-4-4 (Courage, 1-0-0 playoffs)

On this week’s Equalizer podcast, Dan Lauletta and Richard Farley debated whether the Courage are the deepest team in the NWSL. It’s certainly worth a listen for many reasons (and I’m not just saying that because yours truly also appears on the show), but given this week’s injury report plus the fact that it’s a midweek game, and the Courage depth is going to be tested versus a Chicago roster that’s as close to full strength as the 2018 Red Stars have been thus far.

Paul Riley is not as given to roster rotation when facing multiple games within a week as most other coaches are, but he has the added stress of having four of his preferred starters listed as questionable on the injury report, which of course means the possibility of playing is still open. Neither Jaelene Hinkle nor Sam Mewis played last weekend, but Abby Dahlkemper did, after sitting out previously. Riley has used Kaleigh Kurtz as a replacement for both Dahlkemper and Hinkle in various games, so he could be faced with having to play yet another substitute, possibly Cari Roccaro, if neither defender is up to playing. Also of interest is Katelyn Rowland’s status. We all know Sabrina D’Angelo can play well, but what we’ve seen over the last season and a half is that when one of these keepers has gotten injured, the other has grabbed hold of the starting position with both gloves and hasn’t let go – until she herself has gotten injured. They’re easily one of the best one-two goalkeeper combos in the league, so Riley is set either way, but it’s an interesting battle to watch unfold. Also of note is that the Courage enter this match with a new arsenal on their bench for the first time – Heather O’Reilly.

Conversely, the Red Stars report all but Stephanie McCaffrey available for duty. This is a big step up from even just a few weeks ago, when players lined their bench that probably weren’t ready to play. Casey Short started (and scored) on Sunday, and Morgan Brian, Vanessa DiBernardo, and new acquisition Brooke Elby saw minutes. Given that this is the second of three games within a week, Rory Dames will almost certainly rest some legs. It wouldn’t surprise me to see DiBernardo and Elby start and Rosie White to see game time. What remains of question to me is if the Red Stars, with one less day of rest on top of travel and several just back from injury, can withstand the Courage’s well-known tendency to simply run the opposition into the ground for 90 minutes. If it becomes a game of attrition, the Red Stars  have the numbers, but the Courage have whatever is in the water in North Carolina that has them more fit than any other team. One last note – history is on Chicago’s side, as they are one of only three teams to take any points from the Courage this season.

  • Courage injuries: OUT – Liz Eddy, Julie King; QUE – Abby Dahlkemper, Jaelene Hinkle, Samantha Mewis, Katelyn Rowland
  • Red Stars injuries: OUT – Stephanie McCaffrey

HOT … OR NOT?

Hot

Yuki Nagasato’s diving header: Nagasato has been in the thick of it in nearly all of her matches this year, and this header was the cherry on top so far.

Not

Fouling: Three players in this match (Nikki Stanton, McCall Zerboni, Danielle Colaprico) are in the top five of fouls conceded this season.

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