After winning the opening game of interim head coach Sean Nahas’ tenure, the North Carolina Courage were dominated by the Houston Dash on Sunday, Oct. 10, falling 4-1.
Club captain Abby Erceg spoke with the media after the game, the first time a Courage player has done so since the events of last week.
“I think there’s been a lot that’s being shared, not only by the players, but also by the club and the league as well,” Erceg said. “I think there's a lot going on and there's a lot being said, so I think in terms of that, there's not a lot to share. But the girls are doing as well as they can, you know? It was a big change and it was big news."
According to Erceg, the ordeal brought the roster closer together. The captain said that the team has been checking in on one another and support has been widespread throughout the roster.
“So, it’s starting to get back to business,” Erceg said. “We don’t want to forget about it, obviously, but at the end of the day, we’re players and we want to play, and we want to get back out on the field. So, for us, it’s a really good way to bring us together and just make sure that we’re okay. We can play and we enjoy that.”
The game got off to a flying start as the Courage responded to an early flurry of Dash chances, opening the scoring in the fourth minute. The lead did not last long, however, as Bri Visalli equalized in the sixth minute with the first of four unanswered Houston goals.
The Courage’s opener was a textbook example of ‘Route One Football’ as Kaleigh Kurtz launched a long ball over the top to Jess McDonald, who only needed a single touch to blast the ball into the bottom corner.
The Dash poured on the shots after their equalizer, outshooting the Courage 15-6 in the first half, with seven finding the target. Houston found a lot of success in the wide areas as Rachel Daly and Shea Groom connected on crosses from Nichelle Prince and Kristie Mewis in the 24th and 26th minutes, respectively, to put the Dash up 3-1.
“Obviously we got off to the best start we possibly could, scoring within like three or four minutes, whatever it was,” Erceg said. “That was great and you just let in a quick one right after that and it goes all downhill from there but they're a good team. … I think we just made some mistakes tonight. It was a little bit uncharacteristic.”
Houston picked up right where it left off after the break as Daly bagged her second goal in the 57th minute. Abby Erceg did well to get a secondary tackle in after going to ground, but the ball bounced right back to Visalli, who tapped it back for Daly to finish.
Throughout the game, the Courage’s attack struggled to connect. McDonald and Debinha were able to get on the ball a lot, but their services often went unanswered. Both Lynn Williams and Amy Rodriguez struggled to find their footing in the game.
“We were trying to be so perfect in how we were trying to play,” Nahas said. “The one goal we scored was completely against any type of build. It was just going direct and we turned them around, but we never did that again. We kept trying to play the game perfectly and they just sat off and absorbed it and looked to counter. The players, they're not going to make any excuses. That's just not who they are.”
Substitute Havana Solaun went down late in the game with a non-contact injury and had to be carried off the field. After the game, Nahas said they are going to get some imaging done, adding that “I don't want to speculate on anything, protection of her, but not ideal. That's for sure.”
Before the game, Kurtz responded to a Twitter thread from Nahas’ pre-game press conference, saying “#removeinterim” and after the game, Erceg spoke about Nahas’ first week in the new role.
I asked Abby Erceg after the game about the players backing Sean Nahas on Twitter before the game and here was her answer.Sounds like the players had a say in him being named interim. #NWSL https://t.co/7eMJRb2bHR pic.twitter.com/Yco8yKfF1U— Nicholas Schnittker (@nick_schnittker) October 11, 2021
While the Courage still sit in fourth after the loss, they need to pick up six points in their next two games to lock up a place in the playoffs, especially since they end the season at league-leading Portland.
Just four points separate the Courage from eighth-place Orlando, while Houston pulled level on 32 points with the win and Chicago, Washington, and Gotham all sit within three points.
The one benefit for the Courage is that two of the remaining three games this season are against Gotham and Washington, so if the Courage can win those two, they will be in a great position heading into the last game of the season.
The Courage have an incredibly short turnaround, playing the third of four games in 11 days on Wednesday, Oct. 13 as Washington heads to WakeMed Soccer Park.
“When we talk about protecting the players, we're talking about three games in 72 hours or you know whatever two games in 72 hours,” Nahas said. “We fly home tomorrow, you know? What can we possibly do on a Tuesday? But that's not my call. … We have to manage it. All the teams are dealing with this type of stuff.”
Nahas went on to add that most of the subs were made to save players’ legs ahead of Wednesday's game, saying “Had we gotten the second one and made it 3-2, we probably would have kept going … once we went down 4-1, we knew it was a lot more difficult. So we save legs that way.”