Cary, NC – While the weather was not optimal, there was a warm reception for the North Carolina Courage as they took to the field in Cary for the first time, winning against Portland Thorns FC.
New Team in Town
The journey for the NC Courage to come to Cary has been a long one. The Triangle’s previous women’s professional soccer team, the Carolina Courage, was highly popular and for fans such as Kate McCale, gave her athletes to look up to.
“Watching Mia Hamm growing up, that was me,” McCale said. “Though they weren’t as easy to see as the team now.”
But problems with the league ended the franchise in North Carolina. It was not until North Carolina FC bought the Western New York Flash team in Buffalo, New York that a new women’s team could play in the area.
“I was excited when I heard we would have a women’s team,” McCale said. “I always grew up playing soccer but I didn’t have anyone to look up to.”
Much of Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park was filled for this Saturday, April 22, 2017 game and brought out soccer fans such as Josh Tolbert.
“I love to watch the World Cup and the Olympics and I was here last week to see North Carolina FC,” Tolbert said. “And when I learned there would be a professional women’s team here too, I was extremely excited.”
But the NC Courage also brought out soccer fans who had never been to the stadium, such as Miyra Vasquez and her family.
“Our five-year-old just got into soccer and we want her to have players to look up to,” Vasquez said.
Another reason for the enthusiasm for the NC Courage is not just the presence of a professional women’s team but the promise that they will be top notch players. As the Western New York Flash, the team won the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) championships in 2016.
“I was super excited to see the team because they had players in the US National,” said fan John Setlak. “This is all really exciting for Cary as a whole.”
First in the League
As happy as the fans were about the presence of the NC Courage in Cary, they were ecstatic when the team beat the highly rated Portland Thorns FC 1-0.
The victory did not come easily, with cold, windy weather conditions and Portland’s goalkeeper Adrianna Franch putting up strong resistance, even in the face of constant pressure by the Courage.
By halftime, the Courage had nine goal attempts to Portland’s two but the game remained scoreless. There were some very close calls, including one exciting overhead “Pelé kick” by North Carolina’s Debinha, following support from Lynn Williams and Makenzy Doniak.
Another close call came when Franch caught the ball but it slipped from her fingers. Williams was nearly able to score but a referee called it offsides.
The first point did not come until the 81st minute when Debinha got a running header past the goalposts, thanks to a pass from Jessica McDonald. With the first score coming so late in the game, Portland was not able to make it up and the game ended with the Courage winning their first ever home game.
The North Carolina Courage are now ranked number one in the NWSL. The next home game is Saturday, April 29, 2017 against the Orlando Pride at 4 PM.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Hal Goodtree.