CARY, N.C. – Women’s professional soccer will be the featured attraction when the North Carolina Courage opens play at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday night.
It will be a retooled and updated reigning National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) squad that will take to the pitch against the 2016 Supporters Shield winners, Portland Thorns FC.
The Courage are coming off the first regular-season win in club history, a 1-0 road win against the Washington Spirit on Apr. 15.
McCall Zerboni scored the Courage’s first-ever goal in the 18th minute with a left-footed shot off a cross from Makenzy Doniak, and continued an unbeaten streak since the team posted an unbeaten 4-0 record in the preseason.
It’s the inaugural home opener, and will feature national team players from several federations, including former Tar Heels and USWNT players Allie Long and Meaghan Klingenberg of the Thorns.
Known previously as the Western New York Flash, the Courage’s genesis and rebranding came about as a result of North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik acquiring the team’s rights and relocating the team ahead of the 2017 season in line with the new vision of enhancing the profile of both men’s and women’s professional soccer in the area.
The Courage is part of the ‘New State of Soccer’.
For those of you who have been in the Triangle for some time, the Carolina Courage was the name of the team from 2001-2003 which played in the now defunct Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA).
They played at the exact same stadium in Cary that they will be returning to, originally opened in 2002.
So why bring back the Carolina Courage – why now?
With all the women’s marches around the nation that have taken place in recent months, there’s no better time to empower women and girls to chase their dreams than now.
I must refer to my personal experience while growing up in the area what the original Courage provided to me as a young girl growing up here.
First, I believe it’s a good move because North Carolina is home to the most dominant college soccer programs in NCAA history.
Four teams from the state participated in this year’s College Cup: UNC-Charlotte, N.C. State (Third Round), Duke (Quarterfinals) and UNC-Chapel Hill (Semifinals).
Duke was the NCAA runner-up recently in 2015, and back in 2011.
The Tar Heels’ women’s soccer program has more NCAA national championships in any sport at any school with a total of 22.
North Carolina has produced my favorite soccer player growing up, Mia Hamm, and other legends like Heather O’Reilly, Kristine Lilly, Charmaine Hooper, and Carla Overbeck.
Local college players now get a chance to see firsthand the higher level of soccer they may and can aspire to play at some day.
Second, this team enters a market that has a high participation in youth programs.
I grew up in Apex, and the former Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), now part of North Carolina FC Youth, was the organization I played with while growing up.
Four CASL alumni were drafted in this year’s NWSL draft: Claire Wagner (Clemson) to the NC Courage, Christina Gibbons (Duke) and Alexis Shaffer (Virginia) to FC Kansas City, and Cameron Castleberry (UNC-Chapel Hill) to the Washington Spirit.
Although I did not play at the collegiate level, hearing that these women were drafted by the same club that I participated with makes me smile from ear to ear and makes me incredibly proud.
In fact, anyone in the state of North Carolina should be proud to say that these women are from the area, and will have the opportunity to showcase their talent in front of the home crowd at the professional level.
There is no better time to empower women and girls to continue to chase their dreams; dreams that can include playing professional soccer.
Not only is that a testament that youth programs in the area produce professional talent, but that in North Carolina you can now grow up watching a professional women’s soccer team and someday envision that you could watch someone you know – your daughter, sister, girlfriend, etc. out there.
The popularity of women’s soccer has grown, and will continue to thanks in large part to the continued success of the United States Women’s National Team.
This program and all the players that have helped realize competitive excellence in the sport, have and continue to inspire current and new generations of young girls to play the game.
And those girls also have an opportunity to pursue professional competitive dreams, continuing their participation beyond the scholastic, high school, and college levels.
Someday, they too could wear the crest that bears their home state on the jersey they wear, or even the national emblem to play for and represent their country.
This can only help grow the sport, and the fanbase too.
Every soccer player and every soccer fan has an idol on the field that that he or she looks up to and supports.
It all helps to further chase the dream of playing at that same level, and/or to just watch said player do well while cheering on their club.
So, thank you to Mr. Malik for returning women’s pro soccer to the Triangle.
Thank you to the NWSL for setting the standard and producing a higher quality of what a pro women’s club should play and operate like moving forward.
I promise North Carolina will not let you down.
Welcome home the Courage this season, and hear them roar.
Managing Editor Peter Koutroumpis contributed to this story.