CARY, NC – MAY 7: Nicoli Kerolin #9 of the North Carolina Courage chases the ball during the NWSL Challenge Cup Final between Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on May 7, 2022 in Cary, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
After losing some of its best players to free agency, North Carolina Courage head into 2023 with a squad filled with youth and promise.
It was an offseason to forget for Sean Nahas’ side with the loss of two franchise-caliber players. It is without a doubt a transition year for a side that lifted the Challenge Cup at the beginning of last season. The lack of depth and amount of World Cup players make the task to start the 2023 campaign like they finished up the 2022 regular season.
Nahas attempted to recover from the losses of both Debinha in free agency, and Diana Ordonez in a draft day trade by acquiring players like Tyler Lussi, USWNT star Emily Fox, and Danish international Mille Jejl Jenson.
Earlier last month, North Carolina added Japanese midfielder Narumi Miura from Tokyo Verdy Beleza. The midfield will need a boost. Former top-three selection Emily Gray, Miura, newly named captain Denise O’Sullivan, and former Gotham player Brianna Pinto are going to be the key pieces to the Courage midfield. Past Racing Louisville star Fox came into the team with the exit of two of their most consistent defenders, Carsen Pickett, and Abby Erceg.
Amidst all of the players coming and going throughout the North Carolina roster, the Courage made some moves among the coaching staff. In mid-March, North Carolina appointed former San Diego Wave assistant Victoria Boardman the club’s fourth assistant along with Nathan Thackeray, Emma Thomson, and Fabrice Gautrat. In January, Curt Johnson and the front office were able to add four top-10 selections in the 2023 NWSL draft.
✨ A moment for the record books ✨
First professional goal ✅
First official Courage goal on foreign soil ✅✅
Olivia Wingate comes flying in for a fine finish to get the Courage on the board 👀 pic.twitter.com/S3i99zcyRW
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) March 10, 2023
Beginning with the selection of Notre Dame star striker Olivia Wingate, the Courage then added a player at every level of the pitch to finish out the first round. Wingate started every game for the Fighting Irish last season in the regular season, scoring 14 goals to go along with five assists. North Carolina selected another forward out of Virginia, Haley Hopkins. Hopkins had 22 goals and 14 assists in the final two campaigns with the Cavaliers.
Many of the holes that had been created during the offseason have to be filled by these rookies. It could be in the starting XI, or as one of the depth pieces. Many of the selections rose the eyebrows of many around the league, but it is clear Nahas has faith in every single one of these rookies.
USWNT goalkeeper Casey Murphy between the sticks is the exact player this team needs. Her shot-stopping ability could bail out the Courage on a number of instances. Overall, this is a club with immense pedigree. The championships speak for themselves. This is not the year where one will be lifted, but the potential and promise of this group is one to keep an eye on for the future.
NC Courage projected starting XI (4-3-3):Goalkeeper: Casey Murphy
Defenders (4): Estelle Johnson, Emily Fox, Kaleigh Kurtz, Tyler Lussi
Midfielders (3): Emily Gray, Denise O’Sullivan, Brianna Pinto
Forwards (3): Kerolin, Olivia Wingate, Mille Gejl Jensen
(*Starting XI is subject to a potential formation change during the season*)
NC Courage Most Important Player: Forward, Kerolin NicoliWith the departure of Debinha and Mexican international Ordonez, the Courage will be extremely reliant on Kerolin to produce the kind of threat she posed last season. The Brazilian international attacker netted six goals to go along with four assists as she led North Carolina in progressive passes received during the 2022 regular season.
She was top-10 in shots during the last campaign, giving the opposition nightmares with her elusiveness and speed with and without the ball. At the young age of 23 and having just signed with the club in January of 2022 to a three-year deal, Kerolin has the potential to ascend into one of the most dangerous attackers the NWSL has to offer. Along with Olivia Wingate, Kerolin is going to be dependent on much more, especially in the goals and assist department.
NC Courage best case scenario for the 2023 season: Finishing out of the bottom three in the regular season table.After lifting the Challenge Cup at the beginning of the campaign, North Carolina could not create any sort of consistency throughout the first half of 2022. The Courage did not win a game in the regular season until the month of June, losing three straight to begin the campaign.
Sean Nahas’ side ended the season having lost just one of their final seven games, but at that point, it was far too late with the playoff picture beginning to take shape. North Carolina still managed to finish with the second-best goal differential in the league, missing out on the postseason by just one point as Chicago snagged the No. 6 spot in the table.
So much has to go right this time around for North Carolina to even have a chance late in the season to clinch a berth in the playoffs. Four top-10 selections will help boost the squad, but the loss of players like Debinha, Ordonez, Pickett, and Erceg makes the task of getting out of the bottom three that much more difficult. This upcoming campaign should be looked at with success measured in growth among the young contingent rather than results.
NC Courage projected finish: 12th place in the NWSL table.Somebody has to finish at the bottom. NJ/NY Gotham FC managed to do it last season. In 2023, it could be shaping up to be North Carolina’s finish. You don’t just lose your top-two goal scorers in an offseason and expect to finish anywhere near the position you did last time around. Debinha was at the center of the Courage’s play style for years as the club lifted the NWSL championship twice during her time with the Courage.
Losing her along with one of the most potent strikers in the league last season is going to cause a massive dent that this team does not seem capable of recovering from. On top of that, the defense suffered blows. USWNT star Emily Fox may be on the team right now, but she came at the expense of two starting-caliber defenders. Any position in the bottom three is realistic for North Carolina, but heading into 2023, the very bottom could potentially be the most likely.
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Source : FanSided