Sky Blue FC vs. North Carolina Courage
Sunday, 6 p.m. ET | Yurcak Field | Piscataway, N.J.
Rowland and the Courage wrapped up home-field advantage in the semifinals with a 1-0 road victory over the Houston Dash in Week 20 as the goalkeeper made two saves to earn her eighth shutout of the season and Kristen Hamilton notched her third goal of the year.
The clean sheet was also the 11th shutout overall for North Carolina in 2017 – matching the NWSL single-season record set by FC Kansas City in 2013. The league leaders have three more games to make the record their own while they chase success on several fronts.
North Carolina enters Week 21 with a two-point lead over second-place Portland Thorns FC and have a game in hand on their closest competitors as they look to capture the NWSL Shield. Coach Paul Riley and his players could secure the first silverware of the season if the Thorns fail to win against the Orlando Pride on Saturday and North Carolina follows up with a victory against Sky Blue on Sunday.
In addition to tightening their grip on the NWSL Shield, another victory would see the Courage match the 2014 Seattle Reign for the most wins in a season. It would also keep North Carolina on track to tie that same Seattle side for the most points in a season. Rowland and her teammates need to win all three of their remaining regular-season contest if they want to equal the 54 points the Reign achieved in 2014.
The goalkeeper and her backline of Abby Dahlkemper, Abby Erceg, Taylor Smith and Jaelene Hinkle will also take the field Sunday ready to continue to battle for their place in NWSL history. The Carolina defense can only allow one more goal over their final three games if they want to unseat that 2014 Seattle side for the best defense in league history.
The Reign had a goals against average of 0.83 that year and the Courage will come into the contest with a 0.86 GAA – tied with Portland for the best defense this season.
The North Carolina rearguard will be up against a big test this weekend as they go against the leading scorer in the league in Kerr as well as a Top 10 all-time offense.
Kerr will suit up Sunday with 16 goals on the year – tied with former Seattle midfielder Kim Little for the single-season record. She has not scored in the last two games – including a 2-1 loss for Sky Blue against the Washington Spirit in Week 20 that officially eliminated the Jersey club from playoff contention.
Sky Blue FC has been uncharacteristically quiet on the attack of late – scoring just one goal in each of the last three matches. It’s their lowest production on offense for a three-game stretch since the club scored just two goals in the opening three contests of the year.
Despite the barren spell in front of goal, Sky Blue FC will enter the match with the No. 8-ranked single-season offense in league history – averaging 1.68 goals per game in 2017.
|All-time||2||1||1||0||1||2||+ 1 NCC|
|At SBFC||0||0||0||0||0||0||+ 0|
|2017||2||1||1||0||1||2||+ 1 NCC|