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Underdogs: 2019 NWSL Best XI proves Paul Riley right

With just one player on the list, how could we be good?

SOCCER: JUL 21 NWSL - NC Courage at Chicago Red Stars
Paul Riley thinks about underdog mentality (probably).
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The National Women’s Soccer League put out their Best XI for the 2019 season on Thursday afternoon, and it proved that Paul Riley was right all season long: The North Carolina Courage really are underdogs. Forget about the three consecutive NWSL Shields. Throw away the record-breaking goal scoring of this year. Who cares if the Courage scored 54 goal in 24 games? The only player good enough to be on the league’s Best XI was a defender who got benched for a friendly game after the World Cup because she was out of shape.

The NWSL fans, media, players, and coaches have spoken and they all agree that there are more good players on other teams. Centerback Abby Dahlkemper, who played admirably during the USWNT’s run to a second-straight World Cup title, was the lone Courage player to crack the best starting lineup in the league.

There were certainly a few good calls on the list. Chicago forward Sam Kerr broke the record for most goals scored in a season with 18. Clearly the future MVP deserves to be the league’s starting center forward. She is flanked by two forwards who scored a total of 11 goals this season. Eight for Utah Royals FC forward Christen Press and three for Portland Thorns FC winger Tobin Heath. I’m not saying that Lynn Williams, with her 12 goals this year, is necessarily better...but she sure as hell made a bigger impact on the league in 2019.

The midfield is particularly insane. No Debinha. No Sam Mewis. No Denise O’Sullivan. Crystal Dunn at least made the Second XI, but those amazing personal performances were outclassed in the minds of voters. The Washington Spirit midfielder, Rose Lavelle, who played in six whole matches this year, deserved to make the cut. It’s just too bad that the Courage midfield isn’t better or they might have a shot at really doing something in this league. All that production gets in the way of being the Best, you see.

We get our lone North Carolina representative on the defensive line. Clearly the strength of the team that broke a scoring record this season, Abby Dahlkemper’s 14 games played were some of the best in the league. Unfortunately, the true weakness of the Courage is on the wings, where Jaelene Hinkle’s 6 assists and 1 goal just didn’t cut it. The other outside back, Merritt Mathias, only had 5 assists on the season, which is just paltry and barely worth mentioning. Then we’ve got Kiwi. Our beloved Abby Erceg, who is one of the most consistent defenders in the league. She deserves no recognition here because her team didn’t even win the World Cup. Can you believe the audacity of wanting to be recognized for playing well in the NWSL in league awards? That’s just unreasonable.

There you have it, folks. The Courage are endowed with far less talent than Utah Royals FC, Portland Thorns FC, the Washington Spirit, and especially the Chicago Red Stars. We are approximately as talented as the Orlando Pride, who finished last in the league and we beat 5-0, 3-0, and 6-1 on the season. They managed to get just as much representation on the Best XI with Ali Krieger. This just proves that all of the people joking about Paul Riley’s underdog speeches were wrong. The Courage really are the underdogs of the league.