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We’re Back – Equalizer Soccer



Gotham FC midfielder Allie Long with the ball at her feet

Photo credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Arianna Cascone and Jenna Tonelli are here to kick off our NWSL season previews as the Equalizer Podcast returns. Arianna and Jenna take a close look at busy offseasons from the Orlando Pride, Washington Spirit, and Gotham FC and discuss what to expect from each team in 2023.

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What we learned about the Courage on matchday one – Equalizer Soccer




Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

CARY, N.C. – A new-look North Carolina Courage defeating the Kansas City Current, last year’s finalists, 1-0 to open the NWSL season might seem like a surprising turn of events, if not for Kansas City’s lengthy availability report. 

The Current had six players unavailable for Saturday’s match, and that included all three of their new midfield signings: Debinha, Vanessa DiBernardo and Morgan Gautrat. 

Despite this, the Courage’s home opener provided more insight into their self-proclaimed new era, one that includes a lot of question marks for the team that once set the standard for success in the NWSL. Keeping in mind that this was merely one result in a very long regular season, here are a few things we learned about North Carolina’s new look, and whether or not it can sustain them.

Kerolin is the focal point of the Courage attack

Playing as a false 9 in the Courage’s 4-3-3, Kerolin capitalized on Kansas City’s disorganized back-four and found the space the fullbacks left open when the Courage were on the counterattack. Courage newcomer Tyler Lussi, playing on the right wing, repeatedly found a streaking Kerolin and successfully played her in behind Kansas City’s Hailie Mace on more than one occasion. 

While Kerolin has been relentless in transition since her NWSL debut in 2022, she clearly worked on her strength in the offseason. She wasn’t getting pushed off the ball nearly as much as she did last season, and that’s a critical development for a player who looks to take on defenders in the box. 

Although Kerolin wasn’t the goal scorer for North Carolina – Danish newcomer Mille Gejl scored the lone goal of the match – she generated the highest expected goals value (0.30) of any player on four shots. Kerolin and the Courage attack struggled to connect their final passes and find the back of the net, though, which brings me to my next point.

North Carolina is missing a ‘true’ center forward, but midfield questions are being answered

The Courage clearly missed Diana Ordóñez in their home opener. Ordóñez was the target of many crosses last season, both on the ground and in the air. Without Ordóñez or a natural No. 9 in their line up, a handful of the Courage’s chances were wasted across the box without anyone getting on the end of the final ball.

The Courage have visibly tried adjusting their attacking game plan in light of their forward personnel, though. They only sent in four non-corner crosses the entire game, which is fewer than their average of 17.2 crosses per game last season. Regardless, if North Carolina had a natural center forward on Saturday, they likely would have put away more than one of their chances. 

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On the flip side of that, the Courage have seemingly begun to figure out how to operate without the irreplaceable Debinha, even if Kansas City’s midfield was depleted. Japanese international Narumi Miura debuted for the Courage in the middle of the pitch, and she impressed. Aside from providing the assist on the game-winning goal, Miura was essential for the Courage in their build-up play, winning possession in the midfield and feeding play into the attack. Narumi created the most chances of all Courage players (3) and attempted and won the most tackles (4). With a debut like that, it’s likely that Miura becomes a mainstay in the Courage midfield. 

There are questions at center back for head coach Sean Nahas

A center back pairing of Kaleigh Kurtz and Ryan Williams anchored the Courage’s backline against Kansas City. This was Ryan Williams’ center back debut, after she played over 1,000 minutes at full back in 2022. When Williams was asked about her new role in the postgame press conference, she said:

“Well I guess they needed me there, I’m used to playing right back but I’ve had a couple conversations with the coaches and they said they felt like this is what they needed from me. I don’t know how long it’s going to be, but I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and do as well as I can.”

Nahas and the coaching staff’s decision to transition Williams to a center back for this match is a curious one, considering North Carolina’s roster make up. Rookie Sydney Collins is a natural center back, as are second-year Malia Berkely and veteran Estelle Johnson. In the postgame, Nahas also hinted that Emily Fox, who started at fullback in her North Carolina debut, could see time as a center back against different opponents, and that she was only playing on the outside against Kansas City as a tactical decision to attack space from deeper areas.

It’s hard to interpret the depth of the center back position if the coaching staff is training new players to step in ahead of players who have experience in that role. And while Williams’ performance was solid and the Courage secured the shut-out, it’s also difficult to tell if this is a long-term solution. A shorthanded Kansas City might not have been the best test. 

Altogether, the Courage put together a solid performance against the 2022 runners-up in their season opener. If they continue to build off of this, the new era in North Carolina might not be so bad.

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Sinead Farrelly signs one-year contract with Gotham FC – Equalizer Soccer




FC Kansas City midfielder Sinead Farrelly (17) passes the ball as Chicago Red Stars midfielder/forward Julianne Sitch (19) defends

(Photo Copyright Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

NJ/NY Gotham FC announced on Saturday that midfielder Sinead Farrelly has signed a one-year contract for the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season with an option for the 2024 season. Farrelly attended Gotham FC training camp as a non-roster invitee and is returning to the professional game after nearly eight years.

“I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received to help me reach this point, because I could not have done this alone,” said Farrelly. “I can’t even imagine doing this with another club except Gotham FC. My teammates, the coaches and the staff are amazing. The environment has been professional and so enjoyable. I’m beyond excited for this season with this team. We have such a unified and passionate group and we’re ready to put on a show and win.”

Farrelly was prolific in the NWSL during the first chapter of her career. The midfielder boasted three goals and two assists in 52 appearances, playing for FC Kansas City in the league’s inaugural season in 2013 and for the Portland Thorns in 2014 and 2015. 

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Sinead Farrelly returns to the NWSL and joins Gotham FC (Photo Copyright Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

“I want to be a key player for Gotham FC while also having grace and compassion with myself as I acclimate back into the professional environment,” Farrelly said. “There were times when this did not feel possible for me. But I have made it to this moment, and I’m going to keep building on it. As I continue, I hope to inspire others to follow their dreams, no matter how far out of reach they may seem.”

At the University of Virginia from 2007-10, Farrelly was twice named a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top player. In her senior season, Farrelly had 12 goals and seven assists in 22 games. Farrelly also regularly featured with the U-17, U-20 and U-23 U.S. national teams.

“Sinead is not only an outstanding athlete, but one of the most admired people in our sport,” said Gotham FC general manager and head of soccer operations Yael Averbuch West. “She came into camp and earned a contract with her outstanding play. I know she sees this as just a first step, but everyone at Gotham FC is incredibly proud to be part of Sinead’s journey and excited about all of the great qualities to brings to our team.” 

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Houston Dash, Chicago Red Stars, Orlando Pride — American Soccer Analysis




By Arianna Cascone

The Houston Dash made the playoffs for the first time last season. They finished 2022 in fourth place but tied for 36 points with two other teams (San Diego Wave and Kansas City). The Dash ended up losing to Kansas City in the 90+10th minute in the first round of the playoffs, and they’ll undoubtedly be on a mission to avenge that loss in 2023.

So, what should we look forward to this season?

A new head coach 

Last season saw three head coaches for the Dash. Former head coach James Clarkson was suspended in April 2022, and first assistant Sarah Lowdon stepped in as the acting head coach while the Dash searched for a new person to fill the role. Once Clarkson was dismissed, the Dash started turning around their 2022 ship. Lowdon went on the record preaching the importance of defensive organization off-the-ball movement. The first four games of Lowdon’s short tenure saw those principles translate on the field after Houston improved in goals conceded per game for the Dash: on average, they were conceding 1.7 fewer goals per game (0.5 goals conceded/game vs. 2.2 goals conceded per game). Of course, it goes without saying here that the sample size was quite small, but it’s important to acknowledge Lowdon’s successes.

Juan Carlos Amorós was hired as the interim head coach in June 2022. Amorós saw immediate success in the NWSL as a first-timer. In fact, he became the first head coach in history to win their first three games. He also led the Dash to their first playoff berth in their nine-year history, and hosted that match-up to boot. Despite those successes, Amorós left the Dash almost immediately in the offseason. He’s now the head coach at NJ/NY Gotham FC, and longtime OL Reign assistant Sam Laity has taken the reins at the Dash.

This will be Laity’s first head-coaching gig, so it remains to be seen if he’s up for that challenge. Houston’s actually returning players that accounted for a huge portion of their 2022 minutes (80%), and those players were obviously successful last season. That will help Laity this season, but he also brought in a huge squad–made of up 34 players–for preseason. That might indicate that he’s hand-picking his roster additions, and rounding out his roster with players that best fit his coaching style.

Some exciting attackers

Speaking of additions, Diana Ordóñez’ trade was one of the biggest stories to come out of the 2023 NWSL Draft this year. Ordóñez requested the trade in the offseason, and North Carolina clearly made it happen. The Courage sent Ordóñez and the No. 30 overall pick to Houston in return for the No. 8 overall pick, which North Carolina used to draft defender Sydney Collins. It was an interesting move for the Courage, considering Ordóñez made 17 starts in 19 appearances in North Carolina, but head coach Sean Nahas said the team wanted to honor her requests to be closer to home. Ordóñez also finished fourth in the NWSL Golden Boot race with 11 goals, only behind Debinha on the Courage roster. Those 11 goals even broke the league record for goals scored in a rookie season.

North Carolina’s loss is Houston’s huge gain. 

There’s no doubt that Ordóñez will be headlining the Houston attack this year, paired with Ebony Salmon. Ordóñez scored 11 goals on 7.27 xG, and Salmon scored 9 goals on 5.38 xG. That translated to 0.83 goals on 0.46 xG per 96’ for Salmon, which was the highest goals minus expected goals value in the league (read: overperformance). Unfortunately for Houston, Ordóñez was ranked third in that overperformance measure, having scored 0.71 goals on 0.24 xG per 96’ mark. We should expect some regression to the mean for these players, which might translate to fewer goals scored. 

María Sánchez will also be a player to watch in Houston’s attacking third. Sánchez was second on the entire Dash roster in passing goals added in 2022, though the player ahead of her (Julia Ashley, CB) only played 172 minutes. Sánchez also recorded two goals and four assists last season, which was her first full season in the NWSL. 

Sánchez, who is known for her signature footwork on the flanks, led the team in crosses into the penalty area in 2022. We should expect her to do that again this season, especially now that one of her targets will be 5’11” Ordóñez, who also happens to be her Mexican women’s national teammate. Both Sánchez and Ordóñez will be available for the Dash through the 2023 World Cup window, considering Mexico failed to qualify last summer. Heartbreaking for both players, but very good for Houston. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Nichelle Prince in this discussion of the Dash attack. Unfortunately, Prince tore her Achilles in the offseason during a Canadian women’s national team friendly and will be unavailable this season. Prince was second in scoring and assists for the Dash last year, with five goals and three assists. She posted the second-highest xG+xA value (0.40) of all Houston players who recorded at least 1000 minutes in 2022. Her injury is a huge loss to this Houston team, but hopefully for them, Ordóñez will make up for at least some of it. 

A high defensive line

Houston conceded 27 goals last season, which came out to 1.14 goals against per game. That’s actually their best mark since 2016 (i.e., as far back as our database goes). Digging into the numbers a little more, Houston ranked second-to-last on total clearances last season, but first in interceptions. They also led the league in offsides provoked. An ‘offsides provoked’ event is awarded to the last defender when an attacker is called offside.

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