On Sunday, October 9th, the Western New York Flash won the NWSL Championship in penalty kicks after an improbable trip to the playoffs. The Flash failed to win 7 consecutive games at the end of the 2016 season before winning their final game to clench the 4th seed in the playoffs. The Flash beat the top-seeded Portland Thorns 4-3 in extra time and then scored the tying goal in the championship game against the Washington Spirit at 120 + 4’. After two games that ended in extra time, the Flash had earned their championship rings.
In January of 2017 it was announced that the rights to the team (although not the name) were sold, and the team was to be relocated to North Carolina to play alongside the newly renamed North Carolina FC. The fans might have been surprised, but the players apparently weren’t. Jessica McDonald (F) mentioned in a recent interview that the players knew well in advance that the team was moving, and quite frankly they were excited about that. With such a jarring transition and a lackluster regular season record, the NWSL community was not ready to embrace the idea that the NC Courage would be able to build on the playoff magic that the Flash had experienced. In short, they were wrong.
The Courage started out the season travelling to Washington, facing the same team they had beaten in the NWSL Finals as the NY Flash. The game should have been an amazing repeat of a thrilling championship game, but the Spirit had been gutted in the offseason. 6 of the starting XI from the 2016 Spirit had departed for greener pastures and a seventh suffered a torn ACL less than 30 minutes into the game. The Courage dominated possession, outshooting the Spirit 22 to 3 (and none of those 3 shots were on target), and the final scoreline of just 1-0 is fully to the credit of the Spirit keeper. The historic first club goal came from McCall Zerboni (M) assisted by Makenzy Doniak (M).
Next, the Courage played their first-ever home game against the Portland Thorns in what promised to be a real challenge for the Courage, but it wasn’t. Despite being the consensus #1 team in the league, the Thorns were dominated by the Courage and their high-pressure attack. The Courage outshot the Thorns 15-3, although this time the opponents were able to get one shot on goal allowing keeper Sabrina D’Angelo to record her first save of the season. Once again, only one shot found the back of the net, this time from Brazilian national Debhina, who joined the Courage during the offseason. The 1-0 victory in front of 6,298 fans cemented the Courage as the team to beat in the NWSL.
The third game of the season promised to be an exciting show when the Orlando Pride travelled to Raleigh with their new superstar,Brazilian national Marta, in her first start for Orlando. The Courage jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute but conceded their first goal of the season in the 27th minute. The team had a brief huddle after the goal was scored and went back on the offensive, dominating the remainder of the game and ultimately winning 3-1. Goals came from Jess McDonald, Sam Mewis, and Lynn Williams respectively.
You may be thinking to yourself, well that’s all well and good, but why should I support this team? First, the Courage, like the Flash before them, win with athleticism and passion. They lack the superstar power that other teams boast, but that just makes rooting for them more personal. You can feel the camaraderie and trust that they players have for one another.
Second, the NWSL makes it unbelievably easy to watch the games from afar. 4 of 5 games are available for free on the go90 app (on your phone/tablet) or the go90 website. One game each week is broadcast on Lifetime, which does require a cable subscription to watch online or on your television, but a frugal consumer will note that for people outside the USA every game is broadcast live on the NWSL website. A simple VPN will allow you full access to all of the games live. Additionally, all of the games are available for replay any time you want (hell, you can go back and watch every NWSL game that was ever played on YouTube, including the two amazing playoff games that I mentioned at the top of the article).
Finally, the venue is beautiful, the fans are great, and the tickets are cheap! Sure, the weather for the first two home games has been bizarre and extreme. The first game was brutally cold for late April, with temperatures in the low 50s with blowing winds.The second game was a scorcher, with temperatures near 90 at kickoff. That didn’t stop our ladies from kicking ass, and that didn’t stop us from enjoying the atmosphere.
OK, you’ve been convinced, but you might just be unbearably lazy like me. I’ll provide links to ticket purchasing and game replays to get you pumped for our match on Sunday against the #2 Boston Breakers. The next home game is Sunday, May 21st.