2024 S-2 Briefing: North Carolina Courage

At the end of the 2022 season I wrote: “Perhaps the single biggest shock of 2022 – at least to me, who looks on them like Michael Myers in a Halloween flick; liable to pop up anywhere all the time just to scare the shit out of you – was not running into the Carolina Courage in postseason.”

That was pretty on-point, because like the movie slasher, in 2023 they were back, being their usual playoff nuisances, the Damned…

North Carolina Courage

Year formed: 2017
As noted in the last Briefing, this outfit is technically only seven years old but in fact goes all the way back to the WPS through the lineage of the Western New York Flash.

Here’s something I didn’t know about The Damned until just now. From the club Wikipedia page:

“The team’s name is a nod to the original Carolina Courage – who won the 2002 Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) Founders Cup – as is the stylized lioness image, which matches the head of the lioness on the WUSA team’s badge with very minor alterations.”

Look up at that crest. Does that look like a lion to you? Fuck, no. I always figured it was some kind of “wildcat”, “Carolina Wildcats” is a thing, so, okay, but a lion? GTFO. That’s some shoddy artistry right there. Lion, my ass. That’s not a lion.

One more reason to give these people stick.

Owner: Stephen Malik
Same guy, owner of the men’s USL club and this one.

The Wiki entry lists the pro tennis player Naomi Osaka as an owner. Looks like she bought in some time in the 2020-21 offseason, but I can’t find how much a stake she got.

Head Coach: Sean Nahas
Nahas is entering his third full season in Cary after taking over in September 2021. He’s been playoff- or playoff-adjacent both seasons.

2023 – 9-7-6 (33 points; 3rd of 12) 29GF 22GA +7GD.

After going 9-8-5 in 2022 (32 points; 7th of 12) 46GF 33GA +13GD what’s ironic is that the Damned didn’t really so much charge back into the 2023 playoffs as the 2023 playoffs dropped down and scooped them up.

Season summary: Here’s what I wrote about the 2022 season: “The Damned dropped like a rock and was licking the Spoon by Matchday 3. The club stayed there, apparently hopeless, until back to back wins in August – over Chicago on MD 13 and Portland on MD 14”

Apparently “sucking early season ass” is a Nahas-Courage thing, because the same thing happened last year; dropped three of the first four to troll the bottom and delight their many enemies.

Last season the Damned didn’t wait as long to go on their tear. Starting on Matchday 5 with a win over Houston they tore off a 7-1-2 run that effectively sealed their playoff spot.

Which they proceeded to cough up like a wildcat (lion? bullshit.) yakking a hairball after collapsing into the postseason, going 1-3-4 over the last eight, and getting blanked by the eventual champions in the home quarterfinal
Meetings with Portland: 5/6/23 (3-3 home draw), 8/20/23 (2-1 away loss, the Hubly Red Card game)

Outstanding players: The 2023 squad had lost several big 2022 names including Debinha to Kansas City and Diana Ordoñez to Houston. In their place came a different Brazilian, Kerolin Nicoli Israel Ferraz…”Kerolin”…and the USWNT defender Emily Fox.

Other standouts for The Damned in ’23 included former Thorn Tyler Lussi, Irish international Denise O’Sullivan, and centerback Kayleigh Kurtz,

We’ll talk about this in just a moment, but in front of the enemy goal it was Kerolin first, the rest, well, not “nowhere” but nowhere much. Tyler Lussi added six and no assists, and from there you’re looking at nobody with more than two (and that was Mille Gejl – nobody else had more than one).

This inability to convert bit the Damned dead square in the ass in the playoff game.

But if this edition of Carolina wasn’t the usual Brazil up front, it was positively Italian catennacio in back; 22GA, tied for the top spot with the Shield, San Diego.

Here’s the Damned defense in from of Casey Murphy over the past two seasons.

Goalkeeper – SeasonxG againstGAGamesxGa/gameD/Diff
Murphy – 202226.0024181.44-0.06
Murphy – 202320.8*20201.04-0.05
2023 xGa values are “Post-shot xG

The Fox-and-Kurtz-led backline tightened up significantly from the poor performance the unit put up in 2022. Murphy remained a “kinda decent” keeper; not up there with the best in the league technically; FBRef puts her seventh of the starters, just behind Kailen Sheridan.

So…one outstanding striker and a damn solid backline were keys to the Damned in 2023

How did they score?

Kerolin and Lussi, as noted.

Run of play goals in green, penalties in yellow, setpieces in blue, and the one own-goal (off Emily Menges in the 3-3 May draw) in red.

Kerolin tallied both the PKs, and the free kick is Tyler Lussi here in the Match of Hubly’s Shame.

With only one Brazilian and missing Ordonez the goals that characterized 2022 dried up. But the other part of that is that in 2022 Carolina knocked in a crap-ton of goals from corners; eight out of their 46, 17%.

Last season? Zero. I dunno what happened, and I can’t be arsed to go paw through the ’22 match reports and find out who wasn’t there to score them in ’23, but boy howdy one of these is not like the other.

How Did They Look?

Nahas started off with a 4-3-3 and played the first three games in this formation. Kerolin at CF with Gejl and Lussi as wingers, O-Sullivan-Miura-Speck across midfield and the Fox-Kurtz backline.

It beat Kansas City (who didn’t?) but then crashed in San Diego so Nahas tried a 4-2-3-1 against Washington:

Same backline, Brianna Smalls for Speck at DM, similar frontline tho Kerolin moves down and outside with Hopkins at the #9.

That went fine, so the Damned ran out a lot of these double-pivots.

When we saw them in August it was the same in back but very different in front, Boade at the #9, Ratcliffe and Pickett instead of Geji and Miura:

Then Kerolin tore her ACL on the final day of the season, so the 4-2-3-1 looked like this in the quarterfinal:

Boade again, but transfer Matsukubo takes over the #10, and Fox takes the LB from Pickett.

Didn’t work, mind, but it’s kind of what Nahas’ club did; the 4-2-3-1 was way over-and-above how they ran out:

FormationMatches (occurance)WLD
4-2-3-114 (13 season, QF)662

And that doesn’t include the eight Challenge Cup matches Nahas ran ’em out in the 4-2-3-1 (and successfully, BTW; Carolina nicked the Last Real COVID Cup in ’23).

Hard to say whether the formation changes made a difference. Certainly the results seem pretty just-above-meh, like the rest of the Carolina season.

Changes for 2024

The Kerolin injury is obviously huge. She’ll be out until midseason at best, and possibly for the season. The Damned have Lussi returning and traded with Washington to acquire Ashley Sanchez, but Sanchez has never scored more than five goals a season.

Emily Fox jumped to Arsenal, and so Carolina signed fullback Feli Rauch from Wolfsburg.

A bunch of squad players moved in and out, too. “Out” included Ratcliffe, Kiki Pickett, Tagliaferro, and Gray, “In” came “Double Bird” St. Georges and midfielders Dani Weatherholt and Rikako Kobayashi from Verdy Beleza.

On draft day Carolina had no first round picks. Their first pick was deep in the second round (#24 overall) and the two others were deep as well; #40 in the third round and #52 in the fourth.

Henderson liked the second rounder (centerback Talia Staude out of Virginia) and was fine with centerback Julia Dorsey from UNC. His opinion of the final pick (winger Landy Mertz from Pittsburgh) was kind of “okay”.

How they’ll look next year?

Lots of returning starters, so it’s not too hard to guess:

The real hard nut is the #9. Who fills in until Kerolin is fit? Last season it was Boade, but she’s gone. Hopkins got a start against Washington, so I’ll guess her.

The backline and DMs look fine. But where are the goals going to come from? In 2023 the loss of Debinha and Ordonez to Kerolin and Lussi meant the loss of over ten goals. Now the Damned are going from Kerolin and Lussi to…Lussi and Sanchez?

That doesn’t seem like a trade-up.

Summing Up

Nahas and the 2023 squad came back from the 2022 NWSL dead. But not all the way; the ’23 club seemed like a shadow of the late Teens monster, and given how much it rode Kerolin it’s hard to say how well the club will do without her.


I think it’s gonna be tight. The 2024 Damned are going to have to get a lot of things breaking their way. The attack is going to need to find some big Kerolin-workarounds or I see a bunch of scoreless draws here.

If the goals do arrive? The defending should make them a playoff lock. If not…maybe seventh or eighth? Don’t see them tussling for the Spoon; to me this club screams “mid-table”.

Will they be dangerous? In 2023 I said: “They’re going to have to completely re-invent themselves, and I have no idea if they can. Given the turmoil, the losses, and the thrown-together nature of the current roster? So…no, I don’t think so. No more than a “generic NWSL opponent”.”

I don’t think things are as dire as they were after 2022. But the big prop for the 2023 Damned is missing, so how well Nahas can cobble a replacement together will be critical. Still seems kind of “generic opponent”-grade.

Can the Thorns beat them? We always struggle with these jokers, but I’m guessing yes IF our backline comes together. We look better in front, presuming Mike Norris can make egg salad out of eggs and mayonnaise. Easy-peasy, right? But if the backline is shifty I can see shipping a crap goal and their defense neuters Smith, drawing 1-1

I’m now thinking of Carolina in the “second-tier opponents”, which feels deeply weird. They’ve been “the Great Satan” for so long, to fear Gotham more than Carolina just seems wrong.

This club is one I’m going to be really keeping an eye on this year.

Next up: Seattle

John Lawes
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4 thoughts on “2024 S-2 Briefing: North Carolina Courage

  1. “If Mike Norris can make Egg Salad out of Eggs and Mayonnaise.” That about says it all about this coming season.
    The Courage, well I picked them to finish eleventh last year, so I am terrible at this. However, they don’t look very good to me. Losing Fox was huge. Getting Sanchez won’t do the much good as there is no deadly targets for her like she had with Hatch and Rodman.

    1. Like I said; I think they’re going to have to get a LOT of things to break their way. I hate to ever rule these people out, though.

      Balcer is a hell of a good target. Not Rodman, no. But it’s Sanchez that I’m more kinda meh about. I just don’t think she’s all that…

  2. Gotham has usurped NC as the team to beat. NC will still be good but not in the same OMG-we-have-to-beat-these-mfers category anymore.

    And I feel the same way as you do about Ashley Sanchez: lots of flash, meh product. Maybe some coach will figure out how to deploy her better but I haven’t seen it so far.

    1. As I think I said; I now fear Gotham and San Diego; Carolina has dropped into the “second-tier opponents” for me alongside Seattle. As much “nuisance” and “danger”.


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