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Navigating the World Cup for the North Carolina Courage

By Tyler Trent

The Courage after a win (Photo courtesy of NC Courage)

With the World Cup rapidly approaching and players leaving the NWSL to join up with their national teams, there’s plenty of room for change in the NWSL. For the North Carolina Courage, Casey Murphy and Emily Fox are confirmed to be on the United States squad. Kerolin has been confirmed as part of the final squad for Brazil. Captain Denise O’Sullivan was confirmed as part of the final Ireland squad today. Meanwhile, Rikke Madsen and Mille Gejl are currently in training camp with Denmark but haven’t been confirmed for the final squad. All squads are due on July 10 in Australia.

With several key pieces of the success for the team this season, here’s a breakdown of what we can expect, the games the Courage will be without potential world cup players, and who might be vital in stepping out and continuing the Courage’s strong play this season.


With Casey Murphy confirmed as a part of the United States squad, the Courage will be looking for someone to step up. Katelyn Rowland is the most likely replacement for Murphy, with Marisa Bova as the backup. Additionally, Hensley Hancuff has been seen with the Courage squad since she left Gotham FC and was recently announced as a national team replacement player at goalkeeper, providing a third option in goal.


Luckily, only one defender will be missing for the Courage during the World Cup. The bad news is that it’s Emily Fox who has been a crucial addition to the Courage squad this season and a critical piece in the team’s style of play and strong defense thus far.

There are a few options in the team for replacing the starting left-back for the team already. Kiki Pickett has started at left-back already this season, and Sydney Collins has also filled in that role. It remains to be seen if one of these players will step up into the role. Defenders Nikia Smith and Sarah Clark have also been signed as national team replacement players to help bolster the defensive options and have been training with the team regularly this season.


Denise O’Sullivan has been one of the most consistent players for the Courage this season, controlling the midfield with Narumi Miura. Replacing her won’t be easy, even with talented players waiting for their chance. Possible options for an enhanced role in the midfield are Briana Pinto, Victoria Pickett, and Meredith Speck. While Speck’s injury status is still unknown, and she has been a consistent part of the starting lineup, Coach Sean Nahas will likely lean on the veteran to step up and steady the midfield despite O’Sullivan’s absence.

Narumi’s exclusion from the Japan World Cup roster was heartbreaking after an incredible campaign so far with the Courage this season. Although it comes in the wake of bad news, having Narumi during the World Cup will be vital for the Courage as she has been at the core of the success of the team.


The forward line for the Courage is likely at the highest level of turnover for the World Cup, with Kerolin confirmed already to be joining Brazil and Rikke Madsen and Mille Gejl both candidates for making the final World Cup squad for Denmark. Assuming all three are unavailable during the World Cup, the Courage will likely see Tyler Lussi and Olivia Wingate in elevated roles within the team.

While Lussi began the season as a starter before moving into a role off the bench, she proved vital in the club’s latest 1-0 win over Racing Louisville, which should be a big boost for her heading forward. Wingate has taken some time to adjust to the league showing sparks of what she is capable of with her pace and trickery with the ball. She has continued to grow into a more comfortable level and is tied on the season with the most assists on the team (in all competitions) with three.

The Road Ahead

With players already gone for training camps and the World Cup set to run until August 20, there is potential for players to miss a minimum of six matches across the league and Challenge Cup assuming a player from the Courage squad makes the World Cup Final. However, the players will likely get some extra time off before returning, so it’s possible that some additional games could be included.

Potential Games Without World Cup Players:

7/1 – vs. Houston Dash

7/9 – @ Angel City

7/22 – vs. Washington Spirit (Challenge Cup)

7/29 – vs. Orlando Pride (Challenge Cup)

8/5 – @ Gotham FC (Challenge Cup)

8/20 – @ Portland Thorns

8/27 – vs. Chicago Red Stars

9/2 – vs. Gotham FC

Luckily for the Courage’s league hopes, only two to three games will likely be missed, and a two-week break in play will start after the Angel City match on July 9. However, the Courage will then go into three Challenge Cup matches to finish up group-stage play. As the Courage looks to win back-to-back NWSL Challenge Cups, these three matches will be crucial for proceeding in the competition as the standings are very tight. While the Courage sits in first of its group at the moment, Gotham FC has played one less match and can overtake the top spot with its game in hand.

In all of the games mentioned above, only Portland is currently a top-four matchup in the league. The other regular season games come against opponents currently in 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th, which should give some confidence to the Courage to continue their form.

The Effect on the League

The Courage roster will be heavily affected by the World Cup, but how does that compare to the other teams in the league?

Tali Lerner has been updating this spreadsheet that tracks the status of potential World Cup players for all the teams and compares the percentage of minutes played by players that will be gone for each team. The Courage currently sits at the top of the list with 44% of minutes played by players who will be gone to the World Cup.

An excerpt from Lerner's spreadsheet. Credit to Tali Lerner.

While some teams also have a higher-than-average percentage, half of the opponents that the Courage will face over this period are below the average, which means their current squad will be mostly unaffected by the World Cup.