Last season, the North Carolina Courage and Sky Blue FC were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum when it came to success. North Carolina had one loss all season, Sky Blue had exactly one win. North Carolina scored 53 goals last season, Sky Blue conceded 52. This weekend both teams meet for the first time this season, and it might just be closer than we think.
Leaving the Basement
We're only three games into the season, but it does look like there has been on the field improvement from Sky Blue. While they didn't play their best in their season opener against the Washington Spirit, they were able to hang in there throughout the entirety of that game. The same could be said for their home-opener against the Houston Dash, and even though they gave up a two goal lead against the Portland Thorns, it was a markedly better performance compared to what you would expect in the same fixture last season. Two players who have been key to the team's success are Raquel Rodriguez and Kailen Sheridan. While Rodriguez has only one assist in three games to her name, she's winning more duels than she has in the past, has been averaging more forward passes than before, and most impressively, has been averaging 4.5 successful take-ons per 90 minutes, which is .9 more than any player averaged last season. When it comes to Kailen Sheridan, she's kept them in many of these games with some absolutely spectacular saves, and has been able to bounce back in a big way after an average 2018 season. While Sheridan will soon be leaving for the World Cup, Rodriguez will be remain with the team for the rest of the season.
OUT: Mandy Freeman (Right achilles tendon repair), Madison Tiernan (Left ACL/MCL sprain), Domi Richardson (right hip)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Carli Lloyd (USA)
Strength to Strength
After a championship win last season, North Carolina has continued to be their dominant selves. A 1-1 draw against the Chicago Red Stars to start the season was followed by a par of huge wins. A 5-0 win against the Orlando Pride and a 4-1 win against Houston have shown that they are just as motivated and haven't lost any of their ability from last season. Their depth will be tested starting this weekend as four of their starters will be missing as World Cup bound players are starting to join up with their national teams. Sky Blue on the other hand will only be missing one. This is North Carolina's game to lose as they are heavy favorites to win this one, but with Sky Blue's steady improvement, and North Carolina not at full strength, don't completely count out Sky Blue getting a result in this one.
OUT: Hailey Harbison (Left Knee); Katelyn Rowland (Right Shoulder)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Abby Dahlkemper (USA), Crystal Dunn (USA), Jessica McDonald (USA), Samantha Mewis (USA)
The North Carolina Courage host Sky Blue FC this Saturday, May 4 at 7:00 PM EST, and can be streamed in the United States at this link, or on the Yahoo! Sports App. For international viewers, the match will be streamed on nwslsoccer.com.