The Washington Spirit will host the North Carolina Courage on Saturday night at Maureen Hicks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex as the team looks to maintain their position at the top of the league table. The Spirit come into the came looking for their first point against the Courage in league play, but they have been a much better team this season than they were in years past. North Carolina has struggled ever since the United States Women's National Team players left over a month ago, and they have been treading water for weeks. The return of Debinha and Abby Erceg might provide a spark for the floundering Courage.
The Washington Spirit remain hot
After earning just 11 points in all of 2018, the Spirit have already registered 18 points in 2019 through just 9 games, and they have taken the top spot in the league. The Spirit have gained meaningful contributions from a number of rookies, including Sam Staab and Jordan DiBiasi, and have received great improvement from midfielder Andi Sullivan.
It's always hard to project how well rookies will transition into the league, but the way that new head coach Richie Burke has been able to create a cohesive team with so many starting rookies is impressive. The Spirit have relied heavily on their defense and the goalkeeping effort of Aubrey Bledsoe to keep them in close games. The defensive side of the ball is coming up against a weak Courage front that has struggled to create solid scoring opportunities lately.
The Spirit offense has not been blowing the doors off, but they have been good enough to get wins. With Arielle Ship and Ashley Hatch leading the attack, it will be interesting to see how they come up against a very strong Courage defense. The 13 goals created by Washinton are a bit above average for this league, but they have already scored more than they did in all 24 games last season. The ability of the Spirit to create a few good scoring opportunities should be plenty with how poorly the Courage have been playing lately.
The Courage are getting back to strength
The last few weeks have been tough for the Courage. After dominating the league in 2018, North Carolina has hit a low point lately without their international players. Head coach Paul Riley is certainly hoping that the addition of Debinha and Erceg to the lineup will provide some much-needed spark.
The Courage have desperately struggled on defense since they lost three starters. Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé and center backs Abby Dahlkemper and Erceg have all been gone for a while, and the replacements haven't enabled the team to play as aggressively as they were used to. Backup goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland played so poorly that she was benched in favor of rookie Sam Leshnak. With Erceg returning to the starting lineup this week, things will start to feel a little more normal on defense.
Then there are the forwards and their lack of production. For the past several weeks the team has struggled to produce offensively. In general, they've been good enough to average a goal per game, but that likely won't be enough to secure a win against Washington this weekend. Lynn Williams has been in a deep slump, and she will need to find some scoring form to help this team against a stout Washington defense.
How to watch
The game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 29th in Boyds, Maryland. It can be streamed live on Yahoo! Sports domestically and on the NWSL website internationally.