No NWSL can claim as great a turnaround as the North Carolina Courage, née Western New York Flash, pulled off last year. Few expected them to get over the bottom half of the table in 2016; nobody thought they’d make the playoffs. It defied all logic and reason to say they’d win the whole darn thing. But then again, defying all logic and reason is such stuff as 2016 is made on, so that’s what the Flash did.
But now the team has higher expectations coming into the 2017 seasons and are sure to have been well-scouted by NWSL teams sick to death of getting beaten on the counter by the Courage’s offensive juggernaut. Let’s take a look at some of the offseason moves the Courage have made to put them in a good position for the upcoming season.
Sam Mewis and Jaelene Hinkle are no longer the Courage's only U.S. Women's National Team players. Three starters from last year’s team, Abby Dahlkemper, Jessica McDonald, and Lynn Williams, as well as the Courage’s first draft pick Ashley Hatch, have all been capped by the full US WNT in the past four months, and Taylor Smith, who wasn’t even a regular starter in 2016, was called into camp in January. Williams and McDonald both made the SheBelieves Cup roster, with Williams appearing in all three games, including scoring the US’ only goal of the tournament in a 1-0 win over Germany. Mewis also had a good tournament for the Yanks, earning the start in three straight matches.
On the YNT front, Makenzy Doniak competed at the La Manga Tournament with the U-23 National Team and coached at US Soccer’s first Strikers and Goalkeepers YNT camp. On the international side, Sabrina D’Angelo was named a subsidized player by the Canadian federation, and Abby Erceg announced her retirement from the New Zealand national team.
After locking down head coach Paul Riley for another season, the Courage have made other notable moves. They shipped starting center-back Alanna Kennedy to the Orlando Pride for Samantha Witteman. Back-up goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom was traded to the Portland Thorns in exchange for two 4th round picks in the 2018 NWSL College Draft.
The biggest move could be signing Brazilian international Rosana and Debinha. The 34 year old Rosana previously played for Sky Blue FC in the WPS and was signed to the Houston Dash in 2015 but never played a game for them. Most recently she played for São José after a brief stint with Paris Saint-Germain. Debinha played for Avaldsnes IL in Norway from 2013-2015 and was the league’s top scorer in 2014.
The Courage selected Ashley Hatch, Darian Jenkins, Claire Wagner, and Jaycie Johnson the 2017 NWSL College Draft. The Courage’s first pick, BYU’s Ashley Hatch, earned her first US WNT cap in October, coming off the bench against Switzerland. Stylistically Hatch and the Courage are sympatico: she’s quick, tougher than her size might suggest, and relentless in front of goal, capable of scoring anywhere, anyhow.
Clemson Tiger and CASL alum Claire Wagner adds defensive depth and a presence on set pieces. The center-back had 10 goals in her college career.
UCLA’s Darian Jenkins and Nebraska’s Jaycie Johnson were both speedster goal-scorers in college, but their pace could see them moved to the outside given the Courage’s logjam at the forward position. Both are coming back from serious injuries that could see their playing time limited in 2017. Jenkins broke her fibula in October and Johnson is coming off her second ACL tear.
Putting down Local Roots
North Carolina Football Club, the parent company of the NC Courage and the mens second division club, North Carolina FC, recently announced a partnership with Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) and Triangle Futbol Club Alliance (TFCA). According to a press release on North Carolina FC’s website, the deal creates the “largest youth-to-pro soccer club in the United States.” The Triangle area is already a hotbed of women’s soccer, with colleges like UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University regularly recruiting many players from the area. For context, four of the 40 players taken in the 2017 NWSL draft were CASL alums, including NC Courage selection Claire Wagner. The partnership is a huge move for the Courage, giving them invaluable local connections in their first year in North Carolina.
The Courage kick of the 2017 season against the Washington Spirit at the Maryland Soccerplex on April 15 in a rematch of last year’s NWSL championship. Their home opener is April 22 against the Portland Thorns.