The North Carolina Courage returned to the field on Monday afternoon for the team’s first preseason training session. While roughly 10 players are either away with their national team or playing in Australia, there were plenty of big names and familiar faces at the practice, along with some of the new signings.
“It’s always fun,” said captain Abby Erceg. “This is kind of the only job where we come in and we want to be at work and we want to get going. First day is always fun. You get to meet new people and see what the team is all about.”
Erceg, who recently signed a new contract with the club, spent the offseason in Raleigh due to a travel restriction during the process of the player acquiring her Green Card.
“I go summer to summer most years so this was the first winter I [didn’t go home] and I was away from my family and away from a lot of my friends. I found it really difficult. I’m someone that likes to spend a lot of time outside and go hiking and I spent more time indoors than I’d probably like to… The club are doing my Green Card at the moment so part of that phase is a travel restriction. We are at the end of it which is good.”
Erceg, a regular on the New Zealand national team, stated that she does intend to play in the Olympics this summer and will be one of the many players the Courage will be without for seven games during the summer.
“I would be with the [national team] at the moment but it is just because of the travel restriction that I couldn’t go, unfortunately,” Erceg said. “It does damage the relationship with my national team a little bit and that is tough especially with an Olympic buildup, you don’t get much time. Hopefully, it comes through soon so I can get back.”
Along with Erceg, the Courage will be without members of the USWNT and other international players when the Olympics roll around. Head coach Paul Riley had to deal with a similar issue last season with the World Cup, but each new season brings new challenges.
“I don’t think we have prepared as we did last year,” Riley said. “We lost [McCall Zerboni], which is a key component of the World Cup, having a player like that that can come in and play… I think we’re gonna try and add to the squad in June. We’ve got our eye on a couple of players we want to add in June, just before the Olympics.”
Riley cited the midfield and fullback positions are where he feels the team is still a little bit short. The club did address part of the fullback issue over the offseason, signing Haile Mace to a two-year contract after acquiring her rights from Sky Blue FC in a trade that saw Zerboni and a 2021 fourth-round pick go the other way. Mace played in Sweden last season and was present at the Courage’s first preseason training.
“It was good, nice and short sessions,” Mace said. “Super intense and competitive, so it’s been good… I’m pretty stoked to be back [in the US]. Sweden was great but it’s nice to be back with Americans, we all speak the same language, hanging out with the girls that I’ve played with before.”
Mace is a versatile defender that can play either at center back or fullback and with Merritt Mathias not likely to be back for a few more months, the Courage will need options on the right side of its defense.
The Courage’s first preseason match will be on March 21, against UNC-Chapel Hill and the full preseason schedule can be found here. The roster for the preseason games includes 31 players and can be found here.