The 2019 NWSL College Draft will take place on January 10th, and the North Carolina Courage are set to make the most of the event. The reigning league champions have two picks in the first round, but there aren't a lot of available slots on the team.
The Courage dominated the National Women's Soccer League in 2018. They completed the best season in league history with a record of 17W-6D-1L while earning the most points, scoring the most goals, and suffering the fewest losses in league history. They easily won the championship 3-0 against Portland Thorns FC despite the championship being held in Portland, and they won the inaugural ICC Women's Championship with six starters missing. There isn't much room for new faces to break into the best team in the league.
Stability in a World Cup year
The Courage are in a unique position. While teams like Portland, Chicago Red Stars, and Seattle Reign FC will be missing upwards of ten players for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, the Courage will be much less affected. Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and Sam Mewis will almost certainly be members of the United States Women's National Team, and Debinha is a lock to represent Brazil, but the rest of the team will probably be left in Cary, NC to watch their teammates challenge for the ultimate prize. Midfielder McCall Zerboni is still trying to break into the World Cup roster after fracturing her elbow in a friendly match against Chile and Jess McDonald is participating in her second-consecutive camp with the USWNT, but even if both of those players make the roster the Courage will still be one of the least-depleted teams in the league. With such a deep bench, this means that any rookie is going to struggle to find playing time in this lineup.
On defense, the Courage are pretty well set. They have Abby Erceg and Kaleigh Kurtz in the center with Merritt Mathias and Jaelene Hinkle flanked out wide. The Courage drafted heavy on defense in 2018, and there isn't a lot of need on the back end this year. The biggest defensive area of need would be at goalkeeper. Katelyn Rowland is the presumptive starter, but backup goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo has gone to Sweden ahead of the World Cup. It is not currently known what her plans are, but the Courage don't seem to expect her back in 2019.
The midfield is the biggest area of need. Mewis, Dunn, and Debinha will all be missing for the World Cup, but the Courage have suitable replacements already on the roster. Heather O'Reilly, Kristen Hamilton, Cari Roccaro, and Meredith Speck are all available to fill in at different positions in the midfield, but it definitely wouldn't hurt to grab some replacement players here. Hybrid offensive midfielders best fit the Paul Riley system. If Riley expected that both Mewis and Zerboni will be gone for the World Cup, someone like Emily Ogle would be a good defensive midfield selection.
If there is someone exceptional available, the Courage could add depth to the front line. Lynn Williams seems to be out of the USWNT rotation and McDonald is on the fringe of making the roster, but there isn't a lot of depth behind them The Courage traded Darian Jenkins to Seattle during the offseason, so there is a little room for an exceptional talent to break into the lineup. The Courage selected forward Frannie Crouse in the first round in 2018, but she played just one game and scored one goal for the team before stepping away from professional soccer. The Courage will probably pick players that fit their scheme rather than trying to fill specific holes through the draft. Most of the players already on the roster have the ability to play a variety of roles, so the team can work with any type of rookie.