The North Carolina Courage won the NWSL Shield in 2017, tying a league record with 16 wins, but could not take home the title, falling in the NWSL Championship 1-0 to Portland Thorns FC.
A defensive-minded team last season, the Courage made a huge splash in January with a trade for 2015 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner Crystal Dunn. Dunn will now be paired up alongside 2016 NWSL MVP/Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams on offense. But, to acquire the former University of North Carolina star, the Courage had to trade away two key parts of their Shield-winning team: Rookie of the Year Ashley Hatch and defender Taylor Smith. So this year will be a bit different in North Carolina.
The Courage won’t have to wait long for a rematch of last year’s NWSL Championship. They host Portland Thorns FC in the first game of the NWSL season on Saturday, March 24 in the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime (3:30 p.m. ET).
Head coach: Paul Riley
Home stadium: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park
Allysha Chapman, defender
Crystal Dunn, forward
Julie King, defender
Ashley Hatch, forward
Taylor Smith, defender
In addition to the trade for Dunn, the Courage added two key players in the January dispersal draft, after the Boston Breakers ceased operations. They selected defenders Julie King and Allysha Chapman with the last pick in the first round and the first pick in the second round, respectively. They’ll help on a backline that will need to replace Taylor Smith.
Smith and Ashley Hatch were key parts of the Courage last season. Hatch tied a rookie record with seven goals in her first professional season. Smith appeared in every game and added two assists last season.
By the Numbers
2017: 16-7-1, 1st place (Home: 9-3-0, Away: 7-4-1)
38 goals for (4th in the NWSL), 22 goals against (2nd)
Abby Dahlkemper was a corner kick machine in 2017, taking the most in the league by far. Her 116 corners were 40 more than Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe took last season. She created 48 chances, 39 of which came from set plays. She also played every minute once again and took over the record for consecutive minutes played in NWSL history.
Lynn Williams followed up her MVP/Golden Boot winning 2016 season, with 9 goals and 5 assists in 2017, despite dealing with an ankle sprain over the summer. She was one of just two players to appear in the top ten for both goals and assists last season.
The Courage set a regular season record with 12 shutouts during the 2017 regular season, split between goalkeepers Katelyn Rowland (eight) and Sabrina D’Angelo (four). They added a 13th shutout in the playoffs, a 1-0 semifinal win over the Chicago Red Stars. That game was also the eighth time in 2017 that the Courage won a game by the scoreline of 1-0.
The Courage won the NWSL Shield and tied a league record with 16 wins in the regular season, matching the 2014 Seattle Reign FC. However, their biggest struggles came against their fellow playoff teams. Of their seven losses — they lost all three times to the Red Stars, twice to the Pride and once to Thorns.
Crystal Dunn scored 15 goals for the Washington Spirit in her 2015 MVP season. In 2016, she scored 2 goals and 5 assists as the Spirit made it to the NWSL Championship. Dunn and the Spirit lost to many of her now teammates (when they were on the Western New York Flash). Dunn scored twice in the final, including once in extra time, before Williams’s header sent the game to penalty kicks.
Sam Mewis and McCall Zerboni were the key to the Courage midfield last season, going 1-2 in total touches for the team. Both were named to the NWSL Best XI, and Mewis was a finalist for MVP. Mewis had the most aerial wins in the NWSL (109) and Zerboni was second in the league in duels won (208).
Head Coach Paul Riley
Games to Watch
North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns FC
Saturday, March 24 | Lifetime | 3:30 p.m. ET
A rematch of the 2017 NWSL Championship, which the Thorns won 1-0. The two teams split their regular season meetings last year.
Washington Spirit vs. North Carolina Courage
Saturday, April 14 | go90 | 7 p.m. ET
Crystal Dunn returns to Washington. Ashley Hatch and Taylor Smith face off against their former team. Need we say more?
North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars
Sunday, May 6 | go90 | 7 p.m. ET
The Courage lost all three regular season meetings with the Red Stars last season, but finally got the win when it mattered most — in the NWSL playoffs.
March 14: Q&A with Kristen Hamilton
Q: Looking ahead, big home opener in a couple weeks, how excited are you for this?
Kristen Hamilton: It is obviously exciting, everyone wants a little bit of redemption I think. I don’t think the final did the NWSL or either of our teams justice, necessarily. So I think that everyone is eager to get back out there and see where we’re at. But it is a little bit of a different team though, so it isn’t necessarily a total rematch which you would love to have, but there is this kind of rivalry that has bloomed even when we were at the Flash so yeah, it is definitely a big game. We’re also going to be in front of our home crowd which we get awesome fans out to the game, so I think everyone is super excited to see where were at and building off of that first performance for the rest of the season.
March 9: Crystal Dunn ready for her NWSL return
“I’m really excited to just go back to a familiar place,” Dunn told reporters on Sunday at Red Bull Arena following the U.S. women’s national team’s 1-1 draw with France.
After a year spent playing in England with Chelsea FC, Dunn ended her time there a few months early, playing in her final game on February 24. Like her fellow U.S. teammates, she will be joining the NWSL preseason now that the SheBelieves Cup has concluded.
“I just think personally it felt right,” Dunn said of the timing of her departure from Chelsea. “I think I wanted to start the NWSL from the beginning. I didn’t think I wanted to play catch up in a sense. And also, just going from playing English football to playing in the U.S., it’s going to take some transitioning. The style of play is definitely different so for me to jump into a season six, seven games in would’ve been kind of like a shock.”
Roster (as of 3/19)
Rostered Players (23 out of 20 spots filled)
Federation Players (FED): 6
International Roster Spots Filled (INTL): 4