North Carolina Courage, 10.11.17
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Know Your Enemy | Learn more about 2017 NWSL Championship opponent North Carolina Courage

On Saturday, Thorns FC will battle the North Carolina Courage in the 2017 NWSL Championship at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (Lifetime, 1:30pm PT).

With the championship match looming, offers a look at the Courage: who to watch, how they got to the final, and what to expect from Saturday's game.

Saturday's championship match will mark the second straight season in which these two teams will have me in the NWSL Playoffs. Last season, when the Courage were playing as the Western New York Flash, the two teams met in a heated NWSL semifinal match at Providence Park, where the fourth-seeded Flash upset the Shield-winning Thorns en route to a NWSL Championship victory.

This season, the Thorns and the Courage were exceptionally well-matched. In each of their two regular season matches, the home team won by only the narrowest of margins (1-0). Fans should expect a similarly tight game on Saturday.

The Courage are coached by former Thorns FC head coach Paul Riley.

2017 has been the year of midfielder and NWSL MVP candidate Samantha Mewis. Mewis, who has spent her whole professional career with the Flash and Courage franchises, scored six goals and registered three assists this season. Her central midfield partner, former Thorn McCall Zerboni, described Mewis as “probably the best all-around player in America right now.” Together, the two form a formidable pair in midfield.

Up top, the Courage are led by 2016 NWSL MVP Lynn Williams. Building off that stellar 2016 campaign – in which she scored 14 goals and tallied six assists – Williams once again led her team in goals scored this season. Her nine goals and five assists meant that she directly contributed to over a third of her team's goals this year.

In defense, the Courage are led by 24 year-old Abby Dahlkemper, who has brought consistency to the Courage's backline and has helped anchor a unit that was among the very best in the league this season.

The Courage had the best record during the 2017 NWSL regular season, amassing 49 points and winning the 2017 NWSL Shield. In particular, this Courage team was stellar on the road, racking up a league-best 7-4-1 record away from WakeMed Soccer Park.

The Courage accomplished all of this while leading the league neither in goals scored nor in goals allowed. Throughout the season, the Courage have simply been consistently excellent, winning close matches and blowouts alike.

One such close match was last weekend's NWSL semifinal victory over the Chicago Red Stars. The Courage advanced 1-0 thanks to an 89th minute goal by Denise O'Suillivan and a headed clearance late in stoppage time by midfielder Samantha Mewis.

In their last five matches – including last weekend' semifinal win over the Red Stars – the Courage are 2-2-1.

Like the Thorns, the Courage ran to the top of the NWSL table by being the most consistent team this season. Their positive goal differential (+16) was only bested by the Thorns' (+17).

Curiously, the Courage drew only one match all season.