Courage Grabs Three Points in the First Match of the NWSL Season
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
A long range strike in the first half from debutant Millie Gelj was enough to secure three points for the North Carolina Courage against KC Current in the first match of the NWSL season on Saturday afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park.
There was an attendance of 4,948 people as the Courage were able to open their season in front of home fans. The first starting XI for the Courage this season featured three new signings making their debut appearances for the club. Tyler Lussi, Narumi Miura, and Millie Gelj all received starts for opening day.
The Courage nearly found a goal only two minutes into the match after new signing Tyler Lussi played Kerolin a through ball. Kerolin was nearly able to round the goalkeeper, but Current goalkeeper AD Franch came off of her line to collect the ball.
In the sixth minute, Kerolin was able to slip past Hallie Mace and play a square pass to Narumi Miura. Miura, who joined the Courage on February 7th from Tokyo Verdy Beleza, nearly was able to grab her first goal for the club as her shot forced Franch into a save once again.
Courage forward Millie Gejl opened the scoring in the 23rd minute after she cut inside and struck a low driven effort that trickled past Franch. Gelj’s long distance effort was the first goal in the NWSL season and opened her scoring account in the league.
In the 28th minute, the Courage were able to put together some precise combination play and Kerolin was able to cut inside to find an angle to shoot. Her effort ended up glancing just wide of the near post.
Courage forward Kerolin nearly doubled the team’s advantage in stoppage time after she scampered past Current defender Gabrielle Robinson and took a shot towards the far post. Franch was able to produce a reaction save to keep the Current’s deficit at one.
Mille Gelj had another effort from distance in the 62nd minute that forced Franch into a save.
In the 64th minute, rookie Olivia Wingate replaced goalscorer Millie Gelj for the Courage as Wingate made her first appearance for the club.
Kerolin was able to get forward on a counter attack in the 82nd minute and play Olivia Wingate through on goal. Wingate was nearly able to get a touch that took her forward towards goal.
Wingate created a great piece of attacking play when she was able to evade a couple of defenders and play a pass into second half substitute Rikke Madsen. Madsen was left with space in front of goal but was unable to hit a strike that found that target.
The Courage were able to secure the three points after a performance that saw the team secure a clean sheet, but felt the team had moments where they could have put the game away.
“I think we had some really good spells in what we were doing and then in the second half I felt like we dropped off a little bit which is normal,” Nahas said. “But, we had several, several quality chances, thought we could maybe put the game away.”
Courage head coach Sean Nahas started Ryan Williams in an unfamiliar position of center back rather than her usual right back role. Nahas spoke about her performance and mentioned how Kaleigh Kurtz has been a great leader for her.
“I think she did a great job tonight,” Nahas said. “I think how we play helps her as well. It’s not so transitional. But, her ability to pass the ball so much and so much sharper because of the options we give her off the ball. I also think it allows her to have more time to make decisions.”
“She is nowhere near where we all want her to be, but that’s expected at this level to turn an outside back into a center back, that’s hard,” Nahas said. “But, she was tremendous.”
Ryan Williams, herself, spoke about her willingness and flexibility to play the position for the team.
“I’m used to playing right back, but I’ve had a couple conversations with the coaches and they just said that they felt like this is what they needed for me,” Williams said. “I don’t know how long it’s gonna be, but I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and do as well as I can.”
Millie Gelj was excited on scoring her first goal for the club and feels she is still adjusting to North Carolina and the NWSL.
“I was really happy to get my first goal and to help the team to get the three points,” Gelj said. “I’ve always heard good things about the league. Today, I think we actually dominated the first 30 minutes so I was really happy to see that. I didn’t have anything to compare it with until today, so I had a good feeling after today and we’re in a good place as a team.”
“Of course it takes a big move when you come from overseas and it takes time to settle in. I really think the team has taught me a lot of stuff and I feel so welcome and that makes it easier to settle in faster.”
The Courage will return to NWSL action against the San Diego Wave in San Diego, CA at Snapdragon Stadium on Saturday, April 1st at 10 PM ET / 7 PM PT.
Photo courtesy Lewis Gettier.
Dakwa holds a BS in Journalism from Elon University. He writes about North Carolina professional soccer for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.