The North Carolina Courage takes on FC Kansas City Saturday afternoon at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. It will be the first time the two teams have played each other in the National Women’s Soccer League.
There are plenty of storylines going into Saturday’s game. Here are five of the most intriguing storylines going into the matchup up with FCKC.
1. Containing Leroux
If the Courage are to get back to its defensive ways, the first order of business will have to be finding a way to contain U.S. Women’s National Team star Sydney Leroux.
After missing the last season due to pregnancy, Leroux returned to the pitch for FCKC this season and is generating plenty of offense through seven games.
Leroux has tallied three goals and one assist through the teams first seven games, including two goals last week against the Washington Spirit. The combination of power and pace make it very difficult to prevent her from scoring any time she has the ball.
2. Righting the ship
To start of the season, the Courage build a commanding lead in the NWSL standings and rocketed to a 4-0 start and had outscored its opponents 6-1 during the four-game stretch. Since mid-May, however, the defense has been lacking, as the team posted a 1-3 record and allowed teams to close in on the top spot in the league.
In each of the three losses for the Courage, the team surrendered three goals to its opponents, and were outscored 9-6 during the four-game stretch.
FCKC, conversely, played exceptionally well in the month of May, going 2-0-2 during the month. The start of a new month could be enough for the Courage to start fresh and return to the defensive stride it found during the month of April.
3. Replacing Kawamura
During the Courage’s 3-2 loss at the Chicago Red Stars last week, defender Yuri Kawamura went down in the 29th minute and did not return to the game. The team announced Friday Kawamura suffered a torn meniscus and torn ACL in her right knee and will be out for the remainder of the season following surgery.
Kawamura started seven of the team’s eight games this season and logged 588 total minutes through eight games with the team. Replacing someone who generated roughly 73 minutes per game will not be an easy task, but this will be an excellent opportunity to improve depth on the team and give valuable minutes to other defenders on the team.
4. Home-field advantage
Despite the dismal record in the last four games, the return to Sahlen’s Stadium could be just what the team needs to find it’s stride. The team is an impressive 3-1 at home, while FCKC has a 1-2 record playing away from home.
Despite the team’s road record, FCKC plays very well in opposing stadiums, only allowing two goals in the team’s three road games. Much the team’s success can be attributed to goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who collected her league-leading 35th career shutout two weeks prior and has only allowed five goals this season.
The Courage haven’t been the most offensively dominant team, scoring two goals or more in three of its eight games. If the Courage defense can get the stops, and maintain an advantage in ball control, it could be able to set up early scoring opportunities to get on the board early.
5. The absence of Newfield
Kansas City Midfielder and University of North Carolina alum Alexa Newfield, who had been playing modestly with one goal and one assist in seven games this season, will be absent from the team Saturday.
The midfielder was red carded last week in the 70th minute after receiving her second yellow card of the game. Those hoping to see the former Tar Heel in action this weekend may have to wait till next season barring the two teams meeting in Cary during the playoffs.
The Courage will take the pitch at 3:30 p.m. with a chance to get a win in its first ever matchup with Kansas City, and maintain the hold of first place in the NWSL.
Duke and Cardinal Gibbons High star Christina Gibbons, however, should be in action.