North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley answered questions about his team’s first season in the Triangle last week with NorthCarolinaFC.com. In the Q&A, Riley talked about his expectations for the season, the opportunity that having a team in North Carolina presents, and previewed his tactics for 2017.
The Triangle is no stranger to high level women’s soccer. The area is home to the most successful college team in history along with other highly regarded college programs. The area also hosted the Carolina Courage of the WPS from 2001-2003. Riley talked about the benefits of bringing a professional team back to the state.
“Carolina has been long known for its exceptional female college teams. Icons like Anson Dorrance (UNC women's soccer head coach) and Robbie Church (Duke women's soccer head coach) have built their respective programs into major collegiate powerhouses. I think the area is ready to embrace [women's] professional soccer again and with so many very good teams in the league, they are in for a treat. Young players with exceptional talent to watch on a weekly basis and the learning curve from watching professionals cannot be underestimated.”
As the NWSL begins its 5th season, a first for a US women’s professional league, Riley talked about the state of the league, bolstered by the new television deal signed with A+E Networks.
“The strength of the league is in its security, sensible approach, competitive balance, improving fanbases and the belief that the worlds game for women's soccer is now a global respected sport. Do we have work still to do? Absolutely. There's been incremental improvements each year, and we are now beginning to attract some of the top players in the world. The new television deal is a massive plus for the league and will undoubtedly bring our league into more American households which, fingers crossed, will enable every team to attract more fan support, sponsorships and overall improve stadia.”
Last season, Riley coached a Western New York Flash side that scored 40 goals, five more than the next closest team in the league. He took a minute to discuss his aggressive tactics.
“No question the players will say I'm an attacking coach, but I believe in working hard from the front and a high press will be a feature of the team. Players know it's about the process and the determination to just get a little bit better everyday. Players will be empowered to express themselves and show the fans what they are capable of. We led the league in every attacking category last year, and I think we play the kind of football that fans enjoy watching. We will work tirelessly at every aspect of our game to ensure improvement each day.”
Riley, a Liverpudlian, mentioned that his coaching philosophy was influenced by one of the greatest managers of all time.
“I think I was influenced mostly by the beliefs of the great Bill Shankly who turned Liverpool FC into a European powerhouse in the 70's.” He went on to note that, “The simplicity of his beliefs, importance of a strong, unified locker room and his tremendous ability to get the best out of his team were huge pieces in becoming a better coach. Many coaches have helped me understand different parts of the game, management of the playing staff, and develop my training style which I work endlessly at to ensure the players enjoy and flourish in an expansive training environment.”
While Riley led the WNY Flash to win the 2016 NWSL Championship, he said that he is looking to improve on the performance last season. He discussed expectations for 2017, perhaps waxing philosophical.
“Expectation is if you have extraordinary belief in your players they will give the team extraordinary results. Improving performance is about freedom to risk and succeed and a safe place to fail and learn. We want, hope and embrace players to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone, but not outside their gifted zone.”
Speaking about two of his players, Riley discussed the development of Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams into players that are now featuring on the US Women’s National team.
“Sam and Lynn are coachable, intelligent, savvy hungry young players. Putting them in a positive environment makes them shine. The experience of last year and the opportunity they have with the USWNT has made them more appreciative and more driven than ever. Two class acts with fabulous future's in the game. Excited to see where the next few years will take them because they have the talent, athletic ability, hunger and desire to be hugely successful in the international game.”
As the opening of training camp nears, the NC Courage will look to continue the tradition of success that the Triangle has experienced as the club defends its NWSL title in 2017.