A Preseason Look at the North Carolina Courage
Updated: Apr 29, 2022
Who are they?
The North Carolina Courage was founded in 2017 after the franchise rights of the Western New York Flash were sold to the owners of North Carolina FC, moved to Cary, North Carolina, and rebranded as the Courage. The Courage have won two NWSL Championships, one in 2018 and 2019. The team’s colors consist of blue, red, and gold.
Their badge features elements of the North Carolina flag with the star and color scheme and includes a lion in the bottom half of the crest. The lower right point of the star represents the Research Triangle which is a geographical region that includes Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh.
The Courage are led by Sean Nahas after a crazy second half of the year in the coaching department last season. On September 30, 2021, Meg Linehan of The Athletic published an article “This Guy Has a Pattern” detailing the abuse and sexual harassment by coach Paul Riley as former NWSL players spoke up years after they had left the league due to this abuse. The same day, the Courage immediately fired Riley and Nahas took over as interim head coach.
On December 1, 2021, the Courage announced that Nahas was officially named head coach. Nahas has been with the Courage since their inaugural season in 2017 and has the support of all the Courage players with captain and New Zealand international, Abby Erceg commenting that “Over the years, Sean has always been a great sounding board for players to turn to when we’ve needed supplementary information on a position or tactic. So it’s exciting for us to have the opportunity to fully tap into his knowledge and have him drive us forward…” Courage owner Steve Malik also had high praise for Nahas saying, “We are excited for the future of the Courage with Sean at the helm. Sean is a player-first leader who aligns with our vision of providing the very best resources for our players to improve and reach their highest potential. We are confident he is the right person for the job considering the experience he brings, along with respect from the players and his long-term commitment to the club evidenced by his 18-year tenure. We are thankful for his stepping up this past season and look forward to his role in leading the club forward.”
Alongside Nahas, the Courage named Emma Thomson as a full-time assistant coach. Thomson was with the club prior to this announcement as she worked both as an assistant coach in addition to the NC Courage Girls Academy. Head coach Sean Nahas commented that “We are very excited to add Emma to our full-time staff. She is eager to take on this role and fully embrace the professional game. She established a good relationship with our players in her first year, and being able to add that consistency to our staff was very important. We look forward to having her on board and providing a great environment for our players.” In addition to Thomson, the Courage have named Paul Forster as an assistant coach and Molly Dwyer joined the technical staff as the team’s Director of Player Experience and Team Administration.
Meet the Players
The Courage currently have 29 players on their preseason roster. All of these players are currently under contract with the Courage as they signed all five of their college draft picks to rookie contracts. The Courage have a good amount of core returning players but have recently lost a lot of big-name players with Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Crystal Dunn, and Jessica McDonald.
The Courage have recently welcomed Katelyn Rowland back after she was traded to the Kansas City Current in 2021. She was brought back to the Courage when Sam Mewis was traded to the Current. They have also brought back Jaelene Daniels who is far from a fan favorite as she is a known homophobe. Daniels, known by many NWSL fans as Hinkle, retired in 2020. In December of the following year, the Courage signed her again to a one-year deal with an option for an additional year.
The Courage lost three of the best forwards in NWSL history this offseason, losing Lynn Williams in a trade to the Kansas City Current, Jessica McDonald in a trade with Racing Louisville, and Amy Rodriguez as she retired after an incredible international and NWSL career. They have brought in new attacking talent with the likes of Jorian Baucom, Kerolin, and college draftee Diana Ordoñez. Baucom was on Racing last season but was left off the game-day roster for the majority of games but showed her quality when given game time. Baucom could be a huge player for the Courage this year as they will need a proven goal scorer. The Courage signed Kerolin, a Brazilian international, to a three-year deal from Madrid Club de Fútbol Femenin. Kerolin received high praise from head coach Sean Nahas, “The addition of Kerolin is one we are really excited about. She is a dynamic player who is extremely dangerous in the final third. She is a technically proficient player who will add a lot to our attacking side of the game. Her recent rise on the international stage, both for national team and club, was something that caught the club’s attention. Having the chance to add her to our roster is something we are looking forward to.” Diana Ordoñez was picked 6th overall in the 2022 NWSL College Draft after a successful three years at the University of Virginia. Ordoñez scored 45 goals, which is tied for third all-time at UVA, and is a three-time All-ACC selection. She was a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist in her junior year and could be a big impact player for the Courage in her rookie season. Between these three players, the Courage will hopefully be able to find consistent goals this season.
Among other young players, Emily Gray of Virginia Tech headlines the Courage’s five draftees as she was the 3rd overall pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft. With Gray in the midfield is Brianna Pinto who joined the Courage after her rookie season with Gotham FC. Pinto played for the North Carolina Tar Heels during her college career and was drafted third overall in the 2021 NWSL College Draft by Gotham. Frankie Tagliaferri of Rutgers University is another new addition to the Courage’s midfield as the Courage acquired her rights from the OL Reign. Nahas commented on the signing saying, “Adding Frankie to our roster is a great opportunity,” said Head Coach Sean Nahas. “She is a top-level young talent that has had a great career thus far through club, college, and the youth national team system, and she possesses great technical quality, game understanding, and passion for the game. We look forward to having Frankie in our environment and watching her develop and become a part of our growth here at the club.”
For returners, Debinha, Casey Murphey, Carson Pickett, and Abby Erceg are players that shined for the Courage in their respective positions last season and the Courage will hope to see them shine again in this upcoming season.
What do I want to see?
Looking at the Courage last season, they had a rough season in terms of finding a rhythm and getting big results when most important. Towards the end of the season, they went through a lot of ups and downs and lost and drew some winnable games for the squad they had. Finishing sixth in the league with a 9-9-6 (win, loss, draw) record, they clinched a playoff spot after a Dash loss to the Spirit on the final day of the regular season.
Looking back at the 2018 and 2019 seasons, those Courage squads were about as close as anyone has gotten to an NWSL dynasty and it is certain that this organization will want to get back to that place once again. It will be much more difficult for them now with much less disparity in squads and more teams to challenge for the top spot, but the Courage will always be a team that’s within that conversation with the expectations of success.
This brand new Courage team will be one to watch without nearly as many big-name players on the roster. They will need to rely on the success and growth of their young players to step up and adapt to the league.
Full Preseason Roster
Goalkeepers: Marisa Bova (CDP), Casey Murphy, Katelyn Rowland
Defenders: Lindsey Agnew, Malia Berkely, Katie Bowen, Jaelene Daniels, Abby Erceg, Kaitlin Fregulia (CDP), Kaleigh Kurtz, Merritt Mathias, Carson Pickett, Kiki Pickett, Taylor Smith, Ryan Williams
Midfielders: Debinha, Emily Gray (CDP), Jordyn Listro, Denise O’Sullivan, Brianna Pinto, Havana Solaun, Meredith Speck, Haleigh Stackpole (CDP), Frankie Tagliaferri
Forwards: Rylee Baisden, Jorian Baucom, Kerolin Nicoli (NYR), Diana Ordoñez (CDP), Brittany Ratcliffe
NYR- Not Yet Reported
CDP- College Draft Pick