The North Carolina Courage, the team formerly known as the Western New York Flash, earned three points in its league debut with a 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The 2016 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champions relocated last year from Western New York to North Carolina.
It was a seemingly rematch of the 2016 league final between the Courage, personnel largely intact from that championship-winning team, and the Spirit, personnel not intact from the 2016 final team. In the offseason, several key pieces to the Spirit’s 2016 team were traded or signed elsewhere.
Things went south for the Spirit early with Joanna Lohman and Cheyna Williams leaving the game in the first half with injuries. The game-winning goal came in the 19th minute from McCall Zerboni. Makenzy Doniak’s left-footed cross in from the right flank found Zerboni, who brought it down and slotted it past an on rushing Step Labbé.
One addition to the Courage who made an impact and adds to a team already solid on each line is Debinha. The Brazilian international is creative and can possess, which she showed against the Spirit. Paired with Sam Mewis, she’ll add even more attacking power to a side with many options.
It’s no secret the Courage have speed with the likes of Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald and it gave the Spirit trouble all game long, especially on its right side where Williams matched up against Estelle Johnson.
The Spirit, for all of the losses in the offseason, still possess a hard-working unit but lack offensive bite. It showed against the Courage with offensive buildup in the final third nonexistent. The best chance on the night for Washington was off of a counter in the 63rd minute when Tori Huster played in Kate Stengel whose rounded onrushing Sabrina D’Angelo but missed on open net.
Labbé recorded eight saves in the loss and from the looks of it, will be called on often this season. It won’t be any easier next week when the Spirit head to Orlando to take on a Pride team debuting in a new stadium with Marta and featuring Ali Krieger, who was traded in the offseason.
The Courage open up at home against the Portland Thorns FC, winners in their home opener over the Pride.