North Carolina Courage Profile

Major Honours NWSL Championship (2), NWSL Shield (3), Women's International Champions Cup (1)
Year Founded 2017

Despite being recently formed, this is a club that has taken women's soccer by storm in the United States. Here's their story.

The North Carolina Courage formed in January 2017. They won the National Women's Soccer League Shield in each of their first three seasons and also made it to the first three finals of the NWSL play-offs, capturing two titles.

Formation

At the end of the 2016 NWSL season, league champions Western New York Flash were put up for sale.

Stephen Malik, the owner of North Carolina FC, who play men's soccer in the USL Championship, purchased the Flash and moved the team to Cary, North Carolina.

Malik retained head coach Paul Riley, who had led the Flash to the NWSL title in 2016.

Paul Riley, North Carolina Courage, 2017

They were rebranded as the Courage, the same name used by a team in the Women's United Soccer Association.

The badge features elements from the state flag of North Carolina and uses the North Carolina FC brand.

The badge also incorporates the Research Triangle, the moniker for the geographic region of Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The North Carolina Courage Stadium

The Courage play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park, a soccer-specific stadium they share with North Carolina FC.

The stadium holds 10,000 fans and has been used by the men's and women's college teams at North Carolina State.

The NCAA College Cup, the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association all use the stadium for their championships.

The facility has also been used for United States national team camps, international friendlies, Major League lacrosse, the CONCACAF Women's Championship group games and rugby matches.

Sahlen Packing Company pays $80,000 a year in a five-year deal to put their name on the stadium. That deal was announced on March 31, 2017.

Entering the NWSL

Paul Riley coached Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL in 2014 and 2015, achieving one play-off appearance. He was the WNY Flash manager in 2016 when they finished fourth in the regular season and won the NWSL play-offs.

Riley brought leading scorers and forwards Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald to North Carolina along with midfielder Sam Mewis, defender Abby Dahlkemper and goalkeepers Sabrina D'Angelo and Katelyn Rowland.

Lynn Williams, North Carolina Courage, 2017

They added New Zealand defender Abby Erceg, Brazilian midfielder Debinha Miri from Chinese side Dalian Quanjian and drafted forward Ashley Hatch with the second overall pick of the NWSL Draft.

The Courage started the season with four straight wins, including a 1-0 victory over Portland in their home opener.

After a pair of losses, they won four of five before losing a couple of games in early July. North Carolina won five in a row in August to move into top spot before their first and only draw of the season on September 24.

North Carolina finished in first place, two points ahead of Portland as they amassed 49 points in 24 games and won the NWSL Shield.

In the NWSL play-offs, they beat the Chicago Red Stars 1-0 in the semi-finals with a goal from Denise O'Sullivan. The finals were played in Orlando and the Courage fell to Portland 1-0.

Riley was named the 2017 NWSL Coach of the Year and Hatch was the Rookie of the Year with seven goals.

Williams led the team with nine goals and five assists, while Mewis added six goals. Dahlkemper was the only player to start all 24 games and she was named NWSL Defender of the Year.

The Courage kept 12 clean sheets over the season, eight involving Rowland and four with D'Angelo. Dahlkemper, Mewis and midfielder McCall Zerboni were all named in the NWSL Best XI.

The 2018 campaign

Before the 2018 season, the Courage brought in US women's national team forward Crystal Dunn. She had previously played for Chelsea FC in England.

Her NWSL rights were acquired in a deal with the Washington Spirit, with Hatch and Taylor Smith going the other way.

In 2018, the Courage put together a magical season that ranks among the best in the history of American women's professional soccer.

The Courage won their opener over Portland 1-0 and rattled off four straight wins to start the season. They had another four-game winning streak in May and started the season with a 12-game unbeaten run.

Their first and only loss of the campaign was a 1-0 setback to the Utah Royals on June 16. After that, the Courage won five in a row before drawing against Utah 0-0. They beat Portland 2-1 in August and finished the season with a 5-0 win over Houston.

Overall, the Courage finished with 57 points from 24 games to win their second straight NWSL Shield.

They led the league with 53 goals scored and conceded just 17. The Courage boasted 17 wins, six draws and one defeat over the regular season.

Williams finished second in the league with 14 goals, while Dunn and Debinha both scored eight times. McDonald had seven goals and a league-best nine assists. The Courage kept 11 clean sheets.

International honours and NWSL play-offs

In July, the Courage represented the NWSL at the 2018 Women's International Champions Cup at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

In the first game, they beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 with goals from McDonald and Darian Jenkins. 

Three days later, they beat UEFA Champions League titleholders Lyon 1-0 with a goal from Heather O'Reilly.

North Carolina Courage, Lyon, Women's International Champions Cup, Eugenie Le Sommer, Kaleigh Kurtz

In the 2018 NWSL play-offs, McDonald and Mewis scored in the 2-0 semi-final win over Chicago Red Stars.

Four days later, the Courage capped their historic season with a 3-0 triumph over Portland.

The finals were moved to Portland because of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. The Courage picked up two goals from McDonald and a strike from Debinha to claim the title.

Riley was named NWSL Coach of the Year for the second straight season, while Erceg was named Defender of the Year. Dunn was Player of the Month for June and she joined Erceg, Dahlkemper and Zerboni in the NWSL Best XI.

The 2019 season

Before the 2019 campaign, the Courage signed Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe from Swedish team Linkopings FC. She replaced D'Angelo, who signed with Swedish team Vittsjo.

The Courage opened the season with a 1-1 draw against Chicago before beating Orlando 5-0 and Houston 4-1.

They lost two games in May, one to Chicago and one to Reign FC, before Labbe, Debinha, Erceg, Mewis, Dunn, McDonald and Dahlkemper left for the 2019 Women's World Cup.

While they were gone, Kristen Hamilton scored a team-record four goals in a 5-2 win over Houston.

Hamilton also scored against Utah at the end of the month to earn the July Player of the Month award.

The Courage lost to Portland on August 11 before winning six straight league games. They again played in the International Champions Cup, this time as hosts.

They beat Manchester City 2-1 on August 15 with goals from McDonald and McKenzie Meehan. They couldn't defend their 2018 title, though, suffering a 1-0 loss to Lyon.

Back in the NWSL, the Courage scored six goals in back-to-back games against Portland and Orlando in September.

Williams netted a hat trick in the September 11 win over Portland, while the Orlando game featured six different goalscorers.

For the third season in a row, the Courage won the NWSL Shield.

In 24 games, they tallied 49 points while leading the league in goals scored (54), goals conceded (23) and goal difference (+31).

Williams scored 12 goals, the second-most in the NWSL, while adding five assists. Hamilton scored nine goals with two hat-tricks, while Dunn added seven.

Debinha led the team with seven assists, second-most in the NWSL, and the Brazilian also scored eight times. Labbe claimed eight clean sheets, the third-most in the league.

Dunn was named Player of the Month for April, while Hamilton won the award in July. Dahlkemper was the lone Courage player in the NWSL's Best XI for 2019.

In the 2019 NWSL play-offs, the Courage hosted and beat Reign FC 4-1 in the semi-finals on October 20.

O'Reilly, Debinha, Lauren Barnes and Dunn all scored in the extra-time win, with all four goals coming after the 88th minute.

In the finals on October 27, the Courage thrashed Chicago 4-0 with goals from Debinha, McDonald, Dunn and Mewis. Debinha was named MVP due to her opening goal.

2020 - The Covid-19 year

The 2020 NWSL season was cancelled due to COVID-19, but eight of the nine teams competed in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Sandy, Utah, starting on June 27.

The Courage cruised through group play, winning all four games, scoring seven goals and conceding just one.

Williams scored the game winner in added time as the Courage opened the tournament with a 2-1 win over Portland, with Debinha scoring the first goal.

Williams scored twice in the 2-0 win over Washington Spirit on July 1, and Erceg scored in the 1-0 win over Chicago Red Stars four days later.

The Courage capped the preliminary round with a 2-0 win over Sky Blue FC on July 13 as Mewis and Dunn scored.

The Courage were the No. 1 seed for the eight-team knockout round. On July 17, they were shutout by the No. 8 seed Portland Thorns and eliminated from the tournament with a 1-0 loss.

It was the first time they had failed to score against an NWSL team since a 0-0 draw against Sky Blue on May 4, 2019 - a span of 27 games.

Williams, Debinha, Erceg and defender Jaelene Daniels were named in the NWSL Challenge Cup Best XI.

In the NWSL Fall Series, each team played four games against two regional opponents in September and October.

The Courage split games with Houston, winning 4-3 and losing 4-1, while drawing 3-3 and 0-0 against Orlando Pride.

In those four games, Debinha scored four goals, Williams added three and Dahlkemper scored once.

After the 2020 season, Dunn was traded to the OL Reign in exchange for Casey Murphy and allocation money. Meanwhile, Mewis left to sign with England's Manchester City.

North Carolina Courage's top players

The top scorer in Courage's history is Lynn Williams, with 35 goals and 15 assists in 64 games. Debinha has 20 goals and 11 assists in 64 games.

Crystal Dunn scored 17 goals in her two seasons in North Carolina, while Jessica McDonald (16), Kristen Hamilton (15) and Sam Mewis (12) are also in double digits on the team's scoring list.

Abby Erceg and Abby Dahlkemper have been staples in the defense for Riley's Courage teams over the last four seasons.

Both have earned NWSL season honours and played for their countries. North Carolina have also been blessed with great goalkeeping talent with Stephanie Labbe, Katelyn Rowland and Sabrina D'Angelo all having appeared between the posts.

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