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The Narumi Effect - How the North Carolina Courage midfielder sets up the team for success

By Tyler Trent


Narumi Miura on the ball (Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Courage)


When the North Carolina Courage announced the signing of Japanese midfielder Narumi Miura on February 7, 2023, few knew how influential her 2023 season with the Courage would be. Narumi was a metronome in midfield, providing a consistent calmness and composure that allowed both herself and her teammates to thrive in the possession-based style the Courage implemented. While it became apparent quickly how special Narumi would be for the Courage, closer inspection provides insight that there’s even more to her game.



A quick look at a radar graph of Narumi's statistics compared to other NWSL midfielders and defensive midfielders shows Narumi's excellent passing skills and defensive prowess. Meanwhile, the areas she struggles in are dribbling and aerial duals. Additionally, in some attacking metrics like shots and touches in the penalty area, she shows an area for improvement compared to other NWSL midfielders. However, Wyscout stats alone don't tell the whole story of the player that Narumi is.


Attacking



While set-piece opportunities weren't particularly the biggest strength of the Courage last season, partly due to the height of the squad, Narumi was able to provide a different look on corner opportunities. She could provide a better advantage than a ball directly into the box from the corner flag. However, with Feli Rauch coming in, it's unlikely we'll see Narumi taking corners often this season, and we could see her providing value in a different way for set pieces.



While Narumi's dribbling success percentage was below average compared to other midfielders, she's not afraid to dribble forward and use the space given to her. In the clip above, she does exactly that before playing a ball to Kerolin, setting up a crossing opportunity.




In the clip above, Narumi takes a quick glance up the field in anticipation of receiving the ball at her feet. By doing this, she knows she will have time on the ball and the general position of her teammates up the pitch. This allows Narumi to play a progressive pass that sets up an attacking movement for the Courage.



In another example, Narumi is continuously scanning up the field while anticipating the ball at her feet. When it comes, she's able to turn and pick out a long ball for Kerolin, who finishes at the near post. Those long balls are one of Narumi's biggest offensive assets. When she has time on the ball, whether it's in her own half or not, she is more than capable of playing a perfect ball forward into the attack.


Narumi scores her first goal for the Courage


Narumi is patient moving forward into the attack as the ball moves down the right flank but picks up the pace after the Kerolin beats 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger and makes a great late run into the box and finishes the chance nicely. While Narumi isn't the player you are going to see scoring goals for fun, when she has the opportunity, she usually puts it in the back of the net.



While Narumi's strengths are best used in the center of the pitch, she can also provide service from wide areas. As mentioned previously, Narumi is fantastic at filling dangerous spaces left by the defense. In the clip, Narumi plays a ball back to Ryan Williams and fills a space left slightly open due to Kerolin's danger and width on the pitch. Williams plays a perfect ball forward to Narumi, where she's able to put a great cross into the six-yard box to create a solid scoring opportunity.


Defending

She is quality. She is better in her defending than people probably see. Those little thin spaces she may cut out, not necessarily going and pressing right away, but the ability to close passing gaps. But, I think the biggest thing is teammates love to compete for her and she loves to compete for them. - Coach Sean Nahas


Much like her scanning while the team is in possession, Narumi does a fantastic job of recognizing dangerous passages of play and snuffing them out before they can even begin. Above, Tyler Lussi is in a good defensive position to defend Michelle Cooper, but a Kansas City Current player recognizes the empty space she can run into. However, Narumi does as well and covers the ground to make the pass a difficult one - and one that ultimately never comes.



In the clip above, Narumi shows great defensive awareness and anticipation to foresee the next pass and makes a great tackle to disrupt the Reign. Narumi continues to fight for the ball and uses her body well to fight off the defender and get the ball out to Kerolin.



This clip shows a fantastic example of what Narumi can do to change a game instantly. She quickly recognizes the danger from Gotham and is able to cut off the pass and immediately play a long ball into Brittany Ratcliffe to flip the danger in the favor of the Courage. Plays such as this can be crucial in turning a game in your favor, and Narumi makes plays like this consistently to aid the Courage two-fold in a matter of seconds.


Narumi makes a crucial goal-line save


A collection of Narumi's defensive highlights while playing for Japan


The Intangibles


Narumi is a beloved player both in the team and by the fanbase. While it's not obvious to those unfamiliar with individual players, the impact of being a great teammate on and off the field is another vital piece of Narumi's success with the Courage. Narumi provides a massive positive boost to the team's morale.


Another key intangible in Narumi's success in the NWSL is her clear motivation and honor to represent the North Carolina Courage. Most players are grateful for the privilege of playing professionally, but you may remember a story from Coach Nahas about Narumi's first time arriving at WakeMed Soccer Park.



The value of a player this grateful for the opportunity to showcase her skills and be a part of a new, growing team environment is boundless. Narumi is honored to be a part of her team and will fight every moment to do what's best for the squad.


Areas for Improvement


While Narumi had a top-class first season in America, there's always room for improvement. One of the biggest areas for improvement would be imposing herself on games to get involved quickly. Narumi often finds free space on the pitch with the Courage in possession. As shown above, her potential impact on the attack through her passing, link-up play, and defensive actions leading to counterattacks is high. Involving herself more consistently and earlier in matches will greatly boost her improvement.


Defensively, Narumi is a wonderful player to have in the midfield. She makes that impact known consistently. Meanwhile, her value in the final third wasn't on display as often despite possessing the obvious technical skills to make her mark. While the Courage system didn't really require Narumi to put up goal contributions to make a crucial impact, improving the consistency of that part of her game will open endless possibilities for both her success and the team in 2024.


The Narumi Effect


With just a few clips and highlights of non-goalscoring moments, Narumi's positive impact on the Courage is immediately obvious. In Coach Nahas' system, she's a perfect fit in tandem with Denise O'Sullivan to control the game with her intelligence, smart passing, and defensive aptitude.


With the World Cup interrupting the 2023 NWSL season, the Courage was expected to be missing a handful of talented players. Unfortunately, Narumi was snubbed by the Japan National Team; however, that exclusion ultimately provided a key boost to both the Courage and Narumi at that point in the season. This period allowed Narumi to continue to integrate into the Courage team and required her to step up with O'Sullivan representing Ireland at the World Cup.


With the addition of fellow Japanese midfielder Manaka Matsukubo, the Courage also received an instant upgrade in creativity in the midfield. Manaka made a quick name for herself, much like Narumi, with creative passing and an absolute peach of a goal in the Challenge Cup Final. Narumi's play in the midfield behind her sets Manaka up for success by allowing her to focus on her strengths in the attack but also provides an outlet for Narumi to make more of an impact in the final third.


Narumi's balanced attacking and defending prowess is critical for the Courage. You can always count on strong passing, awareness, composure, and intelligence from the Courage number six. Having a reliable midfielder capable of putting out fires and starting her own in the attacking third provides undeniable value. As Narumi continues to grow more accustomed to the United States and the NWSL, her ceiling is immeasurable.





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