NC Courage Week 1 Review: Washington Spirit
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. We got that one out of the way. Nothing like the white-knuckle experience of holding on to a lead for almost an entire half while the other team runs rampant. It’s not a typical NC Courage experience, but it’s one that might become more familiar as key players are out and the team rounds into form.
Definitely a tale of two halves, where the Courage dominated the first half of the game and part of the second before petering out and simply holding on for dear life in the last thirty minutes.
Based on the xG numbers, 3 points from this game is fairly lucky for NC. A draw would have been reasonable, and a loss would have been frustrating but unsurprising.
Things to be happy about
- Merrit Mathias’ beautiful chip was the offensive highlight of the match. This is an analytics-focused blog, but it’s important never to miss the trees for the forest and enjoy the low percentage outcomes. It was listed as a fairly low chance — 0.03 xG according to American Soccer Analysis — but it was a great read by Mathias to see the GK out of position and exquisite technique on the shot itself.
- Despite playing the game mostly in either the defensive or middle third, and surrendering possession for the majority of the match, NC was fairly effective at creating chances. The Courage had 16 shots to Washington’s 17, and had 7 on target to Washington’s 6.
- The fullbacks were an unknown going into the game, but both played extremely well in buildup and defensively as well. A common movement in the game was for either Pickett or Mathias to drift in around midfield when the AM drifted out, and pick out a pass over the top to a running forward (see McDonalds goal)
- Hailie Mace was, according to Goals Added, the most valuable player of the night. McDonald generated more xG+xA (to the tune of 0.51) but Mace managed to make her impact in fewer touches. Getting Mace 12–13 touches in the final third every game is going to be key going forward.
- Hamilton didn’t have a great game, but the movement on the first goal is a perfect example of a heads up play by a veteran forward.
Things to improve:
- Defensive solidity: I identified the CBs and DMs as a potential weak point on twitter before the game, and that was a huge issue. Speck’s loss of the ball directly resulted in the first goal, and poor defensive rotations led to the second
- Build up: Also on the shoulders of the core defensive four were the buildup struggles. Aside from some very good passing from the FBs, the Courage had a great deal of difficulty breaking into the final third. According to ASA’s xPassing model, the DMs were tasked with 53 passes in the mid third (about 1/3 of NC’s total passes in that area). Between the two, the expected pass completion based on the pass selection was 76%; the actual was just under 70%. That’s a pretty large gap as it marks 4 possessions ended over expected by poor passing.
- Possession: I’ve talked about field tilt before; the idea that you want the ball in a certain third regardless of possession. Positive field tilt is a huge part of the way NC plays, but it was not happening last night. It was actually dead even, with 239 passes in both defensive/attacking thirds, but Washington had a possession edge of 41% to 29%. That’s a huge discrepancy and if not for NC’s clinical attack, should have cost the game.
- Risk Management: A big part of that is risk — NC’s expected pass percentage in the final third was 59%, almost the lowest in the league. The Courage completed 45% of their passes, and it’s a big part of why field tilt was flipped. Washington was less risky, with an expected completion percentage of 69%, and on top of that actually completed 71%. Taking risky passes to create chances is part of the Courage DNA, but there’s a point where you have to recognize it isn’t working.
- Maybe I’m biased since Trinity Rodman is my rookie of the year pick, but I don’t know how you justify keeping her on the bench. It wasn’t just her appearance that changed the game, but she was a big part of it. In her 43 minutes, she had the highest usage rate of the weekend, receiving 43% of the touches in the final third. She really seems like the full package, able to possess under pressure, distribute, and score — almost like a younger Jessica McDonald. That touch before her goal was truly amazing.
- Debinha had a real shocker of a game by her standards, but you have to be encouraged by her movement and ability to create danger. If Mace and Hamilton can draw more defensive pressure she will get more opportunities on the ball.
Next up: Gotham FC, 4/20/2021 @ 6PM