The North Carolina Courage will start the 2017 NWSL season against the Washington Spirit this weekend and several questions will be answered in the coming months, like: will Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald combine for 40 goals and have a comic book made about their exploits? Does the strategy of trading a starting center back and bringing in new attacking players mean that Paul Riley lines up in a 3-2-5?
Maybe those questions won’t be answered, but the NC Courage have brought professional women’s soccer back to the Triangle and are heading into the season with high expectations after winning the NWSL Championship. They have an owner who is committed to the team in Stephen Malik and are in a soccer savvy market and should help the league see an uptick in attendance this year.
On the field, the Courage added attacking players to a team that scored 5 more goals than the next closest team last year and traded their starting center back after improving defensively in 2016. The Courage will have to work out these contradictions and coach Paul Riley may have to display tactical flexibility if he is going to lead them to the playoffs in 2017.
2016 Record: 9-5-6
2016 Playoffs: NWLS Champions!
Key additions: The Courage needed to improve a defense that allowed the third most goals in the NWSL last year and did so by acquiring Japanese international Yuri Kawamura. In midfield, the addition of Debinha will add more attacking power to an already potent offense.
Key losses: North Carolina managed to keep the core of the Western New York Flash championship team together after moving south. The team did lose Alanna Kennedy who started 15 games for the club in 2016. The Australian center back paired with Abby Dahlkemper to help the Flash allow eight fewer goals in 2016 than 2015.
Projected starting XI:
Major trophies won all-time:
In technical terms, the NC Courage haven’t won anything in NWSL. The players and manager won the 2016 NWSL Championship as the Western New York Flash, but the Courage are looking to starting fresh in NWSL this season.
Thoughts on the team:
The NC Courage are continuing the tradition of soccer excellence in the Triangle area. Club owner Stephen Malik has shown that he is committed to having a successful team and has put the pieces in place to set up the Courage for another shot at making the playoffs in 2017.
What others think of our team from our friends at Stumptown Footy:
NC Courage rivalry watch - Washington Spirit:
Familiarity breeds contempt and the Courage and Spirit are natural rivals. The former WNY Flash beat Washington in the 2016 NWSL Championship thanks to a last second equalizer, well taken penalty kicks, and timely saves. In 2017 the two teams will start where they left off with NC traveling to Maryland for the first game of the season. Plus, sisters Samantha and Kristie Mewis representing each team adds a bit of sibling rivalry to the matches between these sides.
Best social media follow:
Jess McDonald is all over twitter with behind the scenes pictures of the team, interesting collaborations, and she sure seems thrilled to be back in North Carolina.
Key for the season:
The season will hinge on the defense. After allowing the third most goals in NWSL last year the Courage responded by trading their starting center back to Orlando. If that wasn’t curious enough, they didn’t add an NWSL ready replacement. While Yuri Kawamura will add experience to the backline, it isn’t a deep group and Paul Riley may be forced to implement an offense is the best defense strategy and try to beat teams 4-3 every week.
Differences between this season and last season:
Obviously this is a new chapter for NWSL. Stephen Malik is excited about having a team in the league and is more committed than the previous ownership of the Flash. The ownership group has experience with professional soccer thanks to owning North Carolina FC of the NASL and that will be invaluable in marketing the team.
Another difference is that there will be a target on the team’s back. Nobody expected the Flash to win the championship last year and this time around every team will be ready for the Courage.
Samantha Mewis could have a breakout year in central midfield. With the additions of Debinha and Rosana to an already lethal attack, she will have plenty of options while pulling the strings as a deep lying playmaker.
Ah yes, a fools errand: picking where the team will end up in 2017 so that I can be reminded of how wrong I was in six months. I think the Courage will end up in third place overall.
The Flash go undefeated leading the league in goals scored and goals conceded.