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NC Courage 2023 Season Preview

By Tyler Trent

The team in a post-game huddle with Coach Sean Nahas (Photo courtesy of NC Courage)

The 2023 NWSL season will begin this Saturday, March 25th, as the North Carolina Courage face the Kansas City Current at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. This will be the 10th season of the NWSL and it will kick off with a very interesting matchup. Here’s what you need to know about the North Carolina Courage going into this season and their first matchup with the Current.

History of the North Carolina Courage

The North Carolina Courage was founded in 2017 after the relocation of the Western New York Flash. They jumped off to immediate success winning the shield that season and ultimately coming out as runners-up in the playoffs. The next two seasons the Courage won both the shield and playoffs back-to-back. In 2018, the Courage also were crowned the winners of the International Champions Cup (ICC), which saw them winning against renowned European sides PSG and Lyon.

After those years, the success of the club fell off with finishes at 6th and 7th in the table for the 2021 and 2022 season respectively. However, the Courage was able to capture the NWSL Challenge Cup last season. The NWSL Challenge Cup is an intra-league tournament that takes place throughout the season that began in the 2020 season.

2022 Season and the Off-season

The Courage had an up and down year in 2022 which saw them performing well in the NWSL Challenge Cup, but start the season very poorly with three straight defeats. The Courage was ultimately able to begin to turn their season around, but that push started a little too late as the Courage finished in 7th, missing the playoffs by one position.

The off-season for the Courage has been one that most supporters of the club would like to forget with the departure of multiple key players. The departure of Brazilian legend Debinha rocked the foundation of the Courage to kick off the off-season. Debinha had played every season of the Courage’s time in NWSL scoring 42 goals in 115 appearances.

Soon, the 2023 NWSL Draft arrived which saw the Courage with a record-tying four first round picks. With those picks, the Courage selected forwards Olivia Wingate and Haley Hopkins, midfielder Clara Robbins, and defender Sydney Collins. However, bad news proceeded the draft with the announcement that the Courage would be trading breakout rookie Diana Ordóñez to the Houston Dash in exchange for their #8 first round pick.

This was met with backlash from supporters of the club and team captain Abby Erceg on Twitter where she tweeted "We still suck at trades in 2023."

The blows continued to follow as it was soon announced that the Courage agreed to trade defenders Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett to Racing Louisville in exchange for defender Emily Fox. While obtaining United States International Fox was considered a great move, losing veteran leader Erceg and the beloved Pickett in exchange was met with much backlash. The backlash was amplified when Erceg revealed via Twitter that it was her intention to finish her career with the Courage, but the club was prepared to send her away.

However, the bad news slowly dissipated following those three crushing transfers with the addition of some exciting new talent. Denmark international, Mille Gejl, was brought in to fill gaps up top for the team. Veteran defender Estelle Johnson was added to the roster. The very versatile Tyler Lussi was also acquired. Lussi provides an option in defense or the attack and can fill many positions as needed at a high level. The transfers ultimately ended with Japanese International midfielder Narumi Miura arriving in Cary.

The Courage take a photo with Rayadas in Monterrey (Photo courtesy of NC Courage)

The pre-season for the Courage has primarily been spent in Mexico playing closed door scrimmages with Cruz Azul and Pumas. The Courage won both of these scrimmages without conceding a goal while scoring six. The Mexico trip was ultimately capped with an open friendly against Rayadas. The Courage looked shaky in defense for the majority of this match up going down 2-0. However, rookie Wingate was able to score her first goal for the club to make it a 2-1 game in the end.

The Courage have now returned to Cary to prepare for their season opener. On March 17th, it was announced that midfielder Emily Gray had suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Additionally, forward Tess Boade is recovering from a shoulder injury suffered during an off-season loan to Australia. Boade is currently on the 45 day injury reserve list.

Season Outlook

The North Carolina Courage are a question mark going into the 2023 season. With a roster rebuild and an influx of youth, it remains to be seen how the Courage will compare to the rest of the league.

Supporters have voiced concerns about the new backline that is now missing the very reliable Abby Erceg and Carson Pickett. These concerns increased after the Courage struggled defending against Rayadas and made several costly mistakes. Combine that with the loss of their two leading scorers last season, Debinha and Ordóñez, and the Courage will have a lot of questions to answer this year.

The key to the Courage's success will be getting quality production from their four new rookies. Each is expected to have a large role in the team this season. How quickly the rookies can adjust to the league, and build team chemistry, will likely be the deciding factor if the Courage have a successful season.

While the rookies are a big focus, the Courage have several returning veterans that should be able to provide leadership and some stability to the season. Casey Murphy, Kaleigh Kurtz, Denise O’Sullivan, Meredith Speck, and Estelle Johnson have all been in the league for a long time and have proven their worth time and time again. The rise of Brianna Pinto last season is another key point to the Courage season. If she is able to continue reaching her potential, she could play a massive role in the success of this team.

The Courage also bring a mix of youth and experience in players like Malia Berkely, Brittany Ratcliffe, Ryan Williams, Fox and Lussi that will fill vital roles within the team.

It would be remiss to have a Courage season preview that doesn’t mention Kerolin. The young Brazilian burst onto the NWSL season scoring 6 goals while providing 4 assists to her teammates. Kerolin is one of the most exciting players in the league and has very high potential to be a star. If she is able to take another step forward after a strong debut season, that could prove to be the spark the Courage need to be a playoff-caliber team in 2023.

The First Matchup

The odds are against the Courage as they host the Kansas City Current to open the 2023 NWSL season. Last year’s runner-up, Kansas City, had an off-season for the history books adding Debinha, Mimmi Larsson, and Hanna Glas. Eight players were also selected in the NWSL draft highlighted by Duke’s Michelle Cooper and UVA’s Alexa Spaanstra in the first round.

On paper, the Current have possibly the most powerful roster in the NWSL. Their preseason results have been a mixed bag with one win, one draw, and one loss. Though preseason doesn’t often mean much, it’s possible that the Current may have some early continuity to build between the existing roster and their additions.

The Courage will kick-off against the Current at 2pm on March 25th as the first game of the NWSL season. It’s going to be an exciting year, and I hope you’ll join me in supporting this fantastic league.