Can The North Carolina Courage Turn Things Around

The Courage have found a lot of success since the team relocated to North Carolina in 2017 but things haven’t gone how they expected so far this season. 

Since the then Western New York Flash was moved to North Carolina the team has been to the playoffs each season, appearing in three straight NWSL Championships. They won two of those Championships (2018, and 2019) and in those three years, they had a 48-13-11 record. 

North Carolina went through those first few years with the same roster but this offseason brought many changes. They lost key players including Samantha Mewis, Lynn Williams, Amy Rodriguez, and Jessica McDonald. 

The 2022 season also marks the first full season under head coach Sean Nahas. Nahas took over as interim head coach last season after the reports of sexual misconduct came to light against former coach Paul Riley. 

The Courage won the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup but despite that win they have had early struggles. 

Defensive Struggles

So far North Carolina has played nine games this season, the fewest of any team. Through those first games, they sit in last place with a 2-5-2 record and eight points. 

Their two wins came against the Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville, both of those were in June. 

On paper the strength of this team should be the defense, it’s the one position on the field that hasn’t changed. Last season they conceded just 24 goals in 24 games and tallied 12 clean sheets. They returned their entire starting backline of Carson Pickett, Abby Erceg, Kaleigh Kurtz, and Merritt Mathias as well as goalkeeper Casey Murphy. 

This season has been a different story, they’ve conceded 16 goals and only one clean sheet. They’ve struggled with conceding multiple goals a game, they’ve allowed multiple goals in six of their nine games. 

Murphy did miss the first part of the season due to injury and USWNT camp but she’ll be back in the fold now to help clean this defense up. 

If the Courage are going to climb the table they’ll have to figure out a way to clean up the defensive struggles to take the pressure off a young offensive group. 

Finding An Offensive Rhythm 

Offensively things look different in both the midfield and up top. In the midfield, they lean on Debinha and Denise O’Sullivan to control the play but around those two are new faces. 

Malia Berkley has come in and started each game so far this season, playing well in a defensive midfield position. Brianna Pinto is another new face who came over in the offseason. She’s appeared in every match so far in the midfield, picking up the start in five games. 

Kerolin could be the star of the team going forward, she’s been an exciting addition since she came to the NWSL. She’s a gifted midfielder who’s creating a lot of dangerous chances for this Courage team combining well with her Brazilian teammate Debinha. 

In terms of the attack, there isn’t a lot of experience. Of the six true forwards on the roster, only two of them were with the Courage last season. 

Nahas has settled on a 4-5-1 formation this season which could be in part to that lack of experience at the forward position. He looks to have invested in rookie Diana Ordonez as the lone forward up top. Ordonez has the potential to be a star forward in this league as she gains more experience. 

Despite the new faces, they’ve scored 14 goals so far and have only been shut out twice. The Courage are no longer relying on a single player to score the majority of the goals, nine different players have scored for North Carolina this season. 

Looking Forward

This is a team that still has a lot of season to play, sure they’ve gotten off to a slow start but they’ve shown glimpses of what they can do. 

It’s not going to be an easy climb up the ladder especially considering five of the Courage’s next six matches are against teams in the top half of the NWSL standings. That stretch includes two against the Portland Thorns.

Another key part of getting off the bottom of the table is picking up wins at home, three of their five losses have come at WakeMed Soccer Park. 

Sports bettors in North Carolina will have to wait longer to bet on the Courage and other North Carolina sports teams. Sports betting in North Carolina is technically legal but only in person at two tribal-owned casinos but online sports betting is still illegal. It might not come till 2023 but if it does Courage fans can place bets on the NWSL.