In the first match of the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League Playoff doubleheader, the North Carolina Courage hosts Reign FC at 1:30 p.m. ET. The Courage finished first in the league for the third straight year, securing a home playoff game. The first three meetings of the season has seen both teams pick up results. Reign FC toppled the Courage 2-1 at Cheney Stadium back in May, while the Courage picked up two wins at home with a 2-0 result in July and a 1-0 match in August.
Courage look to play the final at home
This season the NWSL final will be held in Cary, N.C. at Sahlen’s Stadium at Wakemed Soccer Park. The Courage have looked dominant since they became a team in 2017, making the NWSL playoffs all three years and the previous two years they have made the final. The team is also the reigning NWSL Champions after defeating the Portland Thorns in the final last season.
After an almost perfect season in 2018, only losing one game, the Courage had a lot to live up to this season and that they did. The team registered 15 wins on the season and scored a NWSL record 54 goals, a record that the team set last season. They also finished five points ahead of the second place team, Chicago Red Stars. The teams goal differential is 31, the second best goal differential is just 13.
The Courage are led by their three finalists for the league MVP award; Debinha, Kristen Hamilton, and Lynn Williams. Debinha has been a key part of the North Carolina midfield, she registered eight goals and seven assists, just one shy of the league leader in 19 matches for the Courage. Most recently she scored in the team's 3-2 win against Sky Blue FC. Kristen Hamilton had a breakout season for the team, stepping up in a big way with nine goals and five assists. Hamilton was the goal-scorer the team needed with players away at the World Cup. Williams led the team in goals with 12 and five assists on the season.
The Courage will need to continue to find the back of the net in order to advance to their third straight NWSL Final.
Reign FC look to pull the upset
Reign FC have been on a bit of an injury carousel this season, the team had to field 31 players this season. They battled through and had a lot of players come up big in order to secure the fourth spot in the league, earning a spot in the playoffs for the second straight season. One of the biggest injuries the team had to endure was losing their midfield leader, Jessica Fishlock, to an ACL tear earlier in the season.
The Reign will need to find a way to score in this game and this season the team’s leading goalscorer has been Bethany Balcer. Balcer, a nominee for Rookie of the Year, was an undrafted player out of NAIA school, Spring Arbor University and only joined the team two days before the regular season began. Balcer has played in all 24 of the Reign’s games this season, scoring six goals and registering two assists. The team will also have Megan Rapinoe in this match, boosting the midfield and helping in the attack.
Injuries to Lydia Williams and Michelle Betos led the team to Casey Murphy. Murphy has played tremendously since joining the Reign and is a contender for goalkeeper of the year. Murphy and the defense will need to put in a strong performance in order to beat the Courage on Sunday. Limiting the Courage's goalscoring chances will be the key to coming away with a win.
How to Watch
The match is set to kickoff at 1:30 p.m. ET at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, N.C. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 in the United States.