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 North Carolina Courage

Courage Knock off Gotham, Celebrate their Injured MVP

by Fran Stuchbury
April 1, 2024 - National Women's Soccer League (NWSL)
North Carolina Courage


North Carolina Courage honors MVP Kerolin Nicoli
North Carolina Courage honors MVP Kerolin Nicoli
(North Carolina Courage, Credit: Fran Stuchbury)

The North Carolina Courage defeated the defending National Women's Soccer League champion NJ/NY Gotham FC 1-0 in front of 5,281 fans at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday evening. The North Carolina victory snapped a five-match winless streak against Gotham that included a 2-0 loss at home in the 2023 NWSL Playoff quarterfinals.

Gotham FC lost a key player on their roster when forward Midge Purce tore her ACL in last week's game against the Portland Thorns.

"It wasn't pretty," said Courage Head Coach Sean Nahas. "They're a good side, and we had to weather the storm a bit, especially late in that half. I felt like the first 15 minutes, we were a bit all over the place. Our press was off. We worked on a few things throughout the week, so the players were prepared to adjust whenever we needed to. Then we settled in and we changed our rotations and movements a little bit.

"What we were trying to do wasn't working because of what they were doing, so it was sort of a chess match in the beginning part of the game and then it settled in. I've been challenging the group all week in terms of learning from last week, in terms of fighting and competing. That last 10 minutes, they put us under an immense amount of pressure and we competed and found a way. For that I'm really proud of the group. The crowd was amazing tonight, definitely lifted us up especially in those later stages, but it's good to go on the international break with three points under our belt."

The only goal of the game came in the 44th minute by midfielder Briana Pinto, assisted by Ashley Sanchez.

"I think that was a really good team goal just because it was super compact in the midfield, especially in the first half," said Pinto. "Gotham was making it really challenging. I think our timing in the box has improved this week.

"(I) like making the near post run and then Ashley (Sanchez) was in the slot and she headed it down and across the frame. It's just my job to frame the goal and redirect it. I think that's from back to front, it was just a full team performance."

Pinto played with Gotham FC in 2021. On December 6, 2021 she was traded to the Courage for $125,000 allocation money.

North Carolina celebrated 2023 NWSL Most Valuable Player, forward Kerolin Nicoli, with a pre-match ceremony. She is still recovering from an ACL injury in the final 2023 regular season game on the road against the Washington Spirit.

Nioli scored 10 goals and added three assists last season, becoming the first Courage player, as well as first player from Brazil, to win the MVP award.

"It stings because she's not playing," said Nahas. "It's a good recognition for a player that deserves to be the MVP, and the club did a good job of recognizing her. I know she's eager to get back. She's one of the best players in the world. She's only gonna be on the rise, and to not have her playing... we're lifting up so that when she does get back that we'll be in a good place. But you can't replace someone like her so you need everyone else to step up. I was glad we were able to honor her the way we did in front of our fans."

The NWSL is off next weekend for the FIFA international window.

The next Courage game is at home on Saturday, April 13th against the Portland Thorns at 7 pm est.





Images from this story

North Carolina Courage battle NJ/NY Gotham
North Carolina Courage battle NJ/NY Gotham

(Fran Stuchbury)
North Carolina Courage honors MVP Kerolin Nicoli
North Carolina Courage honors MVP Kerolin Nicoli

(Fran Stuchbury)
 

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