The National Women's Soccer League is officially back as North Carolina Courage defeated Kansas City Current 1-0 on Saturday. The Courage home opener was the first look at the team without their former star player Debinha who signed with Kansas City in free agency. Courage forward Mille Gejl Jensen scored the lone goal in the victory.
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Here are some takeaways from the match:
Courage capitalize on Current's absent midfielders
A key storyline heading into week one was the return of Brazilian international Debinha to WakeMed Soccer Park. Her return to North Carolina was spoiled by injury and Kansas City's availability report was filled with players out ahead of the match. Kansas City's "big three" free agency acquisitions Debinha, Morgan Gautrat, and Vanessa DiBernardo were out, along with defender Hanna Glas and forward Kristen Hamilton.
North Carolina has had multiple player departures over the last two seasons and many from their previous title-winning seasons. Question marks around how the team would look with so many former starters missing perhaps found some answers in the home opener. The Courage got off to a fast start at the opening whistle and were strong on the counter.
They dominated time on the ball in the first half executing 258 passes compared to 175 by Kansas City. Their extended possession of the ball led to nine total shots compared to five from Kansas City. But the Current's second-half shift leveled the match out a bit as they won more set pieces, and the Courage had stretches of time where they needed to protect their narrow lead.
Courage head coach Sean Nahas commended his young players for protecting the lead and earning all three points.
"It was a gutsy three points, Nahas said in postgame comments. I think we had some really good spells in what we were doing, and then second half I thought we dropped off a little bit which is normal. But we had several quality chances that felt like maybe we could have put the game away.
"But young players are going to learn and that's a good team. They're deep. I know that they're missing a lot of players but we still have to go out there and get three points. I felt that the group battled for a young group, a new group, to get three points. It's only a small step in the direction we want to go but it's a really good foundation to set."
Current rookies get valuable minutes
In light of so many players missing for Kansas City, several rookies made their professional debuts. Current rookies Gabrielle Robinson, Alexa Spaanstra, and No. 2 overall pick Michelle Cooper earned starts against the Courage.
Cooper played a full 90-minute match for Kansas City and provided an early glimpse at her relentless work rate. Current coach Matt Potter praised her after the match.
"She came up against two really seasoned players in the league, and now that they have an understanding of how to look for the moments when players such as Michelle are trying to influence. I thought they had a good idea of taking away her space both in front of her and behind her, especially in the first half. Second half, you saw that she kind of found ways to get involved a little bit more, but that's going to be the growing for her this year. She comes in with personality that we're excited to have as part of our group."
Over her first pro shift, Copper accounted for nearly half of Kansas City's shot total, producing five shots with two attempts on target. The Current closed out the match with 11 total shot attempts. The rookie is looking forward to another chance to get another start next week.
"I think we have to watch the film back and figure that out first, but I think off the top of my head we worked really hard today and unfortunately it didn't turn out our way," Cooper said on her debut.
"It was not easy, that's for sure. But preseason definitely prepared us for that, and I was willing to do anything that I needed to do to help the team and push us to try and at least get a goal or chances on goal and I think I gave it my all today. I'm really proud of the team and all that we've done."
Millie Gejl Jensen, North Carolina: Perhaps an underrated international signing over the offseason, Gejl provided the game-winner and lone goal of the match. The Danish international generated a goal out of nothing when she decided to let one rip from distance, completely catching the Current off guard. Check out her goal:
MILLIE GEJL FROM THE PARKING LOT FOR THE FIRST GOAL OF THE 2023 NWSL SEASON. 😳 pic.twitter.com/LY1PVo5zdD— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) March 25, 2023
Kerolin, North Carolina: It took Kerolin five minutes to generate chaos in the box as she delivered to Narumi Miura for an early shot on goal. The Brazilian international was a constant threat in behind the right side, and her second season in the league is getting off to a strong start.
AD Franch, Kansas City: Imagine the scoreline could have been worse without Franch in goal for the Current. She got caught leaning the opposite way on the lone goal, but came up huge to keep the team in striking distance of a result. She faced seven shots and made four saves against the Courage.
Kerolin dancing around the defense. 💃— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) March 25, 2023
AD Franch with a wonderful save. 🧤
Early action in North Carolina and @paramountplus. 👀 pic.twitter.com/z7usrUh7HR
NWSL opening weekend continues on Saturday as San Diego Wave FC host Chicago Red Stars in Snapdragon Stadium at 10 p.m. ET. North Carolina Courage will be away to face San Diego next week on April 1. Kansas City Current host their home opener on April 1 against Portland Thorns FC.