With less than ten matches left to go in the season, the North Carolina Courage and Reign FC know that every point will count from here on out to reach the NWSL Playoffs. The race for a playoff spot is still as tight as ever with seven teams still technically within reach of a playoff spot, and as the season winds down, three points for either side tomorrow will be huge.
The Reign are one point away from North Carolina in fifth while the Courage sit in third, with two games in hand. A win for either side could have serious playoff implications for not only themselves but also the teams around them in the standings.
The Courage look to bounce back
After losing the Women's International Champions Cup to Olympique Lyonnais Féminin recently, and also losing their last National Women's Soccer League match, the Courage need to find their groove again with a win. North Carolina have struggled to convert their chances into goals and it has seen them drop unexpected points throughout the season.
The biggest culprit of this has been Lynn Williams who has failed to light up the NWSL this year as she has done in previous seasons. Williams has shot 53 times at goal but only found the back of the net six times (putting her conversion rate at 11.3%). Williams does usually need more than one chance to find the goal but this season, her overall production has dipped. Kristen Hamilton has stepped up during Williams' inconsistent season and leads the team with eight goals. With Crystal Dunn and Jessica MacDonald still finding their feet after their World Cup exploits, Hamilton will be the player that head coach Paul Riley will look to to lead the line against the Reign tomorrow.
A misstep against Utah leaves the Reign on the outside looking in
With all things considered, how the Reign have managed to still be in the playoff hunt this year is nothing short of a minor miracle. They lost many of their major players to World Cup duties and their roster has thinned considerably due to season-ending injuries to players who had coach Vladko Andonovski would have been counting on to fill in while the likes of Megan Rapinoe were away on international duty. The Reign have also now lost Shea Groom for a lengthy period during their loss to Utah Royals FC last week.
Even with all of those injuries, Reign FC are one point away from a playoff spot and have a game in hand over those above them (apart from the Courage). If they win all of their remaining games, they will make the playoffs again this year. The biggest reason for the Reign's success has been how stingy their backline has been. Despite conceding three to Utah last time out, the Reign have only conceded 19 goals. They are not scoring as many as they would like but again, with so many injuries, the performances of that backline have helped the Reign throughout the year. Megan Oyster and captain Lauren Barnes have formed a formidable center back partnership and Casey Murphy has been one of best goalkeepers in the NWSL since her arrival in the league. If those three players play like they have been so far this season, they could keep what is usually a high-flying offense in the Courage quiet and come away with a surprising win tomorrow night.