North Carolina Courage defender Merritt Mathias’ shot, or the reaction from everyone who witnessed it, may have been heard around the world. Mathias scored her first goal of the season on Saturday, April 21 against Utah Royals FC in NWSL Week 4 play.
Her strike opened up scoring for the Courage and was a one time strike from far out into the upper-90. Her goal earned a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays the following morning and earned NWSL Goal of the Week honors.
But for Mathias this goal was just a goal—and something that her team needed. The Birmingham, Ala., native joined the Courage this season after playing the past three seasons for Seattle Reign FC. Mathias has played all over the field, primarily on the attacking side, but for Paul Riley’s squad she has been the consistent starting right back. In the Courage’s five games this season she has started each contest and helped her team earn three clean sheets.
Ahead of the Courage’s road trip to Houston on Saturday for the Game of the Week on Lifetime, NWSL Media caught up with Mathias.
Question: I think what is on everyone’s mind right now is this shot of yours from Week 4. How did you feel after that went in the net?
Merritt Mathias: I think if you’ve seen my celebration, I was elated that it went in the net! I picked up my head right when I saw it going into the upper-v and I thought, “Oh my gosh!” The funny thing is I thought in my head when we were in the game that was just outside the 18, I had no idea how far away I was. I think when the ball got played back and I was just like, “This is the ball that you dream of and I am just going to try and connect cleanly with it.” So actually when I got into the locker room after the game and saw the playback I was like, “Oh my gosh I was so much farther out than I thought!” Which is probably why I just was like, “I’m taking it,” like in my head I was like, “I’m pretty close this is fine to do.” So I connected well with it and it went in the net, so it was pretty awesome.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 21, 2018
Q: It must of felt extra sweet scoring that goal in front of your mom, what did it mean to you having her at the game? And what did she say to you afterwards?
Mathias: My mom was here, so yeah it was wonderful that she was in the stands and could see it in person. It is one of those moments that is just always fun to have one of your loved ones there and supporting you and I’m glad she got to see it live and not on TV. It was really special to have her there and she was equally as excited and was getting messages from all of our family friends. She was really proud, so it was really awesome to have her here.
Q: Congrats on earning Goal of the Week, by the way, how did it feel earning that nod?
Mathias: It is so awesome that it is all done by votes and it is all done by fans of ours, so it is cool that people get involved and watch and definitely thought it was worth their votes, so I’m so appreciative of that! But for me it is just a goal and it is a goal we needed, so I try not to get too involved in that stuff. You know it is really awesome I think and it’s great for fans, but for me it’s like that was that and now I need to prepare for the next game and be back to what my job is. But yeah I try to not get too wrapped up in it.
Q: Looking ahead to Saturday, what are some things you and the team are doing to prepare for Houston?
Mathias: I think for us, especially for our backline, we’re focusing again on not giving up easy goals and stuff that is in our hands and preventable, we’re trying to solidify that. I think our focus as a backline is to get a clean sheet and work as hard as possible to do that. And as a team just breaking lines and getting forward and just kind of growing and taking a step forward on what we have been doing in the past four or five games, so I think it is just another step forward and another opportunity to get better and put some things together that may have been a bit off, so yeah just to get better in certain areas and continue building on the things that we’ve been successful at.
Q: Although you’re playing in a defensive position this year, there seems to be endless opportunities for you to go forward into the attack – as someone who has played all over the field in your career — has this been particularly fun for you?
Mathias: Absolutely. I think one of my things is that when I was in Seattle I was jumping as a fullback and then jumping up into the 9 and playing both of those roles and they are so extremely different in the mentality and what you need to do and how you defend and all those things, so I think it has been wonderful for me to consistently get games under my belt as an outside back. I think you only get better and solidify yourself finding a rhythm within practices, within games, but I think for me it has been a lot of fun. I really love this position, it is a lot of work, but it has been fun to get up and down the field and be a part of the attack and be a part of the build going forward. So I think for me I have always wanted to be in this [position in the] league. Yes, I have jumped around, but at this point in my career I am ready to and want to be great at one position. I no longer want to be good at multiple positions. You know it is a blessing and a curse in that right. This has been one of the most fun and better starts to my season and I am just looking to make it consistent and get better and do all those things that are necessary as a right back to have a signifiant impact for this team.
She's done it!
First, @SportsCenter Top 10
Now, NWSL Goal of the Week!
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) April 24, 2018
Q: How would you evaluate your play so far this year?
Mathias: I think for me I have done pretty well. I think the attacking side just comes naturally and that is where I kind of find my groove and confidence and yeah I’m not a natural defender so I think just fine tuning that and getting comfortable. You’re going to see things over and over again, soccer isn’t a game that is always so completely different. In certain positions you’ll always see similar patterns and you’ll see things you need to do in certain scenarios so for me it is just recognizing those scenarios and like reading and going with my gut and just sticking with it in my outside back position. It is about being like I’m ok and confident in my defensive decision making. So I think for that, that is one of my biggest things just continuing to grow in my defensive play. Offensively that is the fun part for me, that is the part I’m like yes I can’t wait to get the ball and go forward. I think for me I can always get better at making my crossing more consistent and I would like to get a few assists in my column, so yeah just keep working and getting forward and making things happen.
Q: What has it been like playing for Paul Riley?
Mathias: I think for me, I always wanted to play for Paul again in an environment that was structured and competitive and what the NWSL is. I think for me I always said if I was given an opportunity and if the stars aligned that if I had the chance to go play for him I absolutely would, and thankfully they did. I think for me it has been a great adjustment. I think it’s one of those things — I’m not a rookie, I’ve been in this league, this is my sixth season and it is not that I’m new, but I’m new to this group of girls, and to this team, the culture, and the environment that they have created here. What they have created is something I really love. When I got here I knew it was important to be really fit and just make a mark on who I am, how I play and who I am as a person and just kind of earn the respect of the players here, because it is not just given to you, it is definitely earned. No matter if you’ve been in the league forever or a rookie, when you come to a new team you have something to prove a little bit. So yeah after that the transition here has been seamless. I love the girls. Love the team. I have just had a really great couple of months in Raleigh.
Q: What is one of your favorite memories this season?
Mathias: Oh gosh. There’s a lot. I think for me there is the goal that I scored that would be the one that is kind of obvious, but really my favorite moments are at our practices and right before we get into a huddle or when we start the day off with a joke or something funny. At the beginning of one of our sessions, (Laughs) Chappy (Allysha Chapman), she didn’t have a joke, but she started singing, (Laughs) goodness I can’t remember the song, but she goes all out, well at the following practice. Nate (Thackeray) who is our goalkeeper coach, he just has an accent and he is just so precious, I don’t even know if you can put that in the interview (Laughs), but he is someone who could wrap you up in a bear hug and it will be a great day! Well he performed “Bump n’ Grind” by R. Kelly and I don’t think I have ever laughed harder. So I just think moments like that, there are some special things that go on in practice that are just so funny and are things that only we know and those are the moments that I love the most just the 20-plus players and staff are the only ones that get to experience that. Really you kind of look around and you’re like, “Wow I love this group of people, this is really fun.”
Q: Who is a forward you are excited to match up against this season?
Mathias: I think I would have to say Pines (Megan Rapinoe.) She’s my best friend. She unfortunately tweaked her hamstring before they came to play us, but I loved playing against her at practice when I was at Seattle. She is one of those players that wants to compete and I feel like I get better playing against her and if I can make it hard for her to play then I have done my job right. She is one of the best in the world at what she does, if not the best in the world at her position, so yeah, I think that matchup will be one that I’m looking forward to. And she can just put a smile on my face in two seconds, so I think she’s one of my favorite people, but also one of my favorite people to play against for sure.
Q: And finally, what are you listening to these days in your headphones?
Mathias: Oh my gosh, anything Drake! He can do no wrong in my eyes. I literally have Nice for What on repeat. I definitely can always get down with Beyonce’s Formation when that song comes on I’m like yes! I love Adele for my chill mornings and I can listen to her always. Also the new J Cole album I’ve been listening to and I really like it. Throw in some Migos! For my pump up music I love rap, but yeah that’s probably my go to right now, but oh of course, shoutout to Cardi B! But I’m definitely looking forward to June because Drake’s album is probably dropping!
Q: What about ‘Bump and Grind’?
Mathias: (Laughs) I just can listen to a song over and over again, but yeah Bump n’ Grind… I will never see it the same way that is for sure! (Laughs)