- A professional football trophy had never ended up in North Carolina
- The North Carolina Courage smashed a series of records during 2018
- Three Ds are hoping to carry their superb form on to the international stage
Pro soccer is on the map in the ‘Tar Heel State’. In the hub of NASCAR, the North Carolina Courage whizzed past the NWSL’s chequered flag with the speed of Richard Petty in his Plymouth Superbird.
Abby Dahlkemper, Abby Erceg, McCall Zerboni and Crystal Dunn made the league’s Best XI. Merritt Mathias, Debinha and Lynn Williams made the Second XI. Jess McDonald was named as the final’s MVP.
Jill Ellis isn’t complaining. The USWNT selector named three Courage stars in her squad for the forthcoming CONCACAF Women’s Championship, which offers three tickets to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™, and she’s earmarked multiple others for a potential trip to France 2019. Nor is Brazil coach Vadao. For two days before he rejoiced at seeing his golden girl win The Best FIFA Women’s Player gong, another of his pupils underscored why adversaries will have more than Marta to decode on Gallic grass.
FIFA.com spotlights the records which fell like leaves in Fall for the NC Courage, and highlights the three aforementioned players set to embark on international duty (injury ruled out Zerboni).
Accomplishments and stats
- The NC Courage became the inaugural winners of the Women's International Champions Cup in July. A Heather O'Reilly goal earned them victory over the mighty Lyon, who fielded five nominees for The Best FIFA Women's Player recently, in the final.
- North Carolina’s +36 goal difference from the regular season was, astonishingly, three times better than the next best: the +12 belonging to runners-up Portland Thorns.
- The Courage set records for wins (17), goals (53) and points (57) in the regular season, breaking the ones Seattle Reign established in 2014. They also conceded the fewest goals in an NWSL campaign (17) – a distinction that had belonged to the Thorns of 2016.
- Paul Riley’s charges became the first in NWSL history to win the NWSL shield – awarded to the team with the best regular-season record – and the NWSL Championship in the same campaign.
- 21,144 – a record crowd for a women’s trophy match in the USA – watched North Carolina sink Portland.
- The NC Courage’s 3-0 win was the biggest-ever victory in a NWSL Championship game – despite it unfolding in Portland’s home.
Jill Ellis lauded the centre-back’s ”tremendous poise and called her “a natural playmaker from the back” – something the USWNT coach relishes. Yet over the last 18 months, Dahlkemper has added Puyol to her Pique. “She gets in the way of everything,” raved Riley. “She’s as brave as they come, and she’s great in one-on-one [situations].” The 25-year-old has it all.
2018 has seen this little bundle of energy and invention flower from a good midfielder into an elite go-to girl. The 26-year-old upped her goals-per-game ratio from 0.16 to 0.39 – she broke the deadlock in the NWSL decider – and improved her all-round game. Having missed out on the 2011 and 2015 Women’s World Cups, can Debinha prove the superstar sidekick to Marta that Brazil have been craving? A glamour friendly away to England could give us an indication.
“I remember back in 2015 when Jill called me and let me know that I wasn’t on the roster for the World Cup,” rued the FIFA U-20 World Cup Japan 2012 winner. “I remember my heart stopping for a split second. It hurt a lot.” Dunn’s exhilarating performances during the NWSL 2018 should ensure that, should the US qualify, she’s a cert for the plane to France, but the question is where she’ll play. The 26-year-old, who’s fast, skilful and boasts defence-decrypting passing, has excelled at left-back, on the wing, in a free role and up front.