They’re probably the most physically and athletically gifted team in the league, so we don’t expect them to be tired and fatigued. —URFC assistant coach Scott Parkinson, on North Carolina
Still in search of its first-ever victory, Utah Royals FC faces a tough obstacle in trying to get it this week as it will square off Saturday afternoon against the NWSL-leading North Carolina Courage on the road.
How good are the Courage? Having won the 2017 regular season before falling in the title match to the Portland Thorns, the Courage are off to a blazing start in 2018. Not only does Paul Riley’s club remain the sole team without a loss or a tie at 4-0-0, but it’s also the only team with at least three wins.
Offensively, North Carolina has tallied a total of 60 shots (25 on goal). The next closest team in that category, the Thorns, have racked up just 28 total shots.
Perhaps it only makes sense then that the Courage have by far the best goal differential in the league at +5, having scored seven times (tied for the best in the NWSL with the Chicago Red Stars, who beat the Royals 1-0 last weekend) and given up just two goals (tied for the NWSL lead with three other teams, including Utah).
“North Carolina are monsters. They’re machines,” assessed URFC assistant coach Scott Parkinson, who, incidentally, hails from Liverpool, England, like Riley.
From a goal scoring perspective, the Courage are spreading the wealth well thus far, as Jess McDonald and McCall Zerboni have two apiece (only seven players in the NWSL have at least two), and three others have one. Lynn Williams is far and away the league leader in shots with 20, as the next closest player, Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe, has 13.
McDonald is third with 11 and Utah’s Gunny Jonsdottir is fourth with nine.
Defensively, North Carolina has come up with a clean sheet in three of its four contests.
In other words, URFC is going to have to be sharp in all facets of the game in order to be successful on Saturday, despite the fact that the Courage will be playing its second game this week after it beat Seattle 1-0 on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if it’s going to have much of an effect on them,” Parkinson said. “They’re probably the most physically and athletically gifted team in the league, so we don’t expect them to be tired and fatigued. That’s just the animal that they are, but it does give us another opportunity to take a look at them. Maybe gives us a little bit of rest so we’re a little bit fresher.”
In addition to perhaps being the fresher side, URFC is also healthier than it has been over the past few weeks, as Kelley O’Hara is off the injury report after she played just 45 minutes last weekend because of a hamstring injury, and fellow defender Becca Moros has been upgraded to questionable after she missed the last two games because of a calf injury.
Start time is set for 1:30 p.m. MDT. For the second week in a row, Utah's match will be Lifetime's Game of the Week, but it will not be aired on other outlets.