During her free agency conversations, midfielder Dani Weatherholt noticed that all of the teams she spoke to were saying the right things. After speaking with North Carolina’s head coach Sean Nahas, she was convinced that in North Carolina, they were going to do more than just say the right things: “We’re not going to talk the talk, we’re just going to walk the walk.”
That conversation weighed into Weatherholt’s decision to sign a two-year contract with the North Carolina Courage after exploring free agency in the offseason.
“I just want to start off by saying how thrilled and honored I am to be joining the Courage,” Weatherholt told The Equalizer of her decision to come to North Carolina. She added, “I really wanted to be in an environment that was going to push me and challenge me and had a winning culture.”
A ‘winning culture’ is one way to describe that of the Courage, who are one of the most successful clubs in the NWSL. Fresh off the 2016 NWSL Championship as the Western New York Flash, the team relocated to Cary, N.C., in 2017 and promptly won three NWSL Shields, two NWSL Championships, and two Challenge Cups in subsequent years. Having won so many trophies undoubtedly made North Carolina an even more favorable destination for the 29-year-old Weatherholt, who is still in search of her first-ever NWSL title.
Though the tradition of winning has remained unchanged, the Courage’s on-field identity has transformed in recent years. The early days of the North-Carolina-based team involved a box midfield and a fast, transitional style of play. Now, under Nahas, who is entering his third full season with the Courage in 2024, the team has strayed away from transitional soccer. After the team’s quarterfinal playoff loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC last October, Nahas acknowledged that the transitional game “doesn’t really suit [the Courage]” and that creating chances in transition is “the last thing [they]” want to do. Instead, North Carolina wants to keep the ball.
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“[North Carolina] has also grown as a club and as a team. They were always very successful, and they still have that as part of their DNA, but they have evolved into this really beautiful possession-oriented style of play as well,” said Weatherholt.
Fitting into the Courage system and playing possession-based soccer won’t be difficult for Weatherholt, who said, “I’m excited to be somewhere where I feel like my characteristics that make me [who I am] actually suit the team really well.” She added, “I think it’s always been my identity. Growing up in Southern California, playing for the [Southern California] Blues, playing for Santa Clara, I’ve always been on very possession-oriented style teams…I’m naturally more of a simple player: possession, get everyone involved in the game. I feel like I’m more of a connector in that sense.”
Weatherholt also mentioned that she’s excited to team up with players like Denise O’Sullivan, Narumi Miura, and her former Angel City teammate Tyler Lussi in North Carolina. On playing with O’Sullivan in particular, Weatherholt said, “I feel like our styles will really work well together and complement one another. I’m hoping to free her up so she can get into the attack more.”
In addition to the on-field components of the club’s identity, Weatherholt said that the Courage’s mentality is something that weighed into her decision to choose North Carolina. “What’s so cool about the Courage is when you have a system that works, it doesn’t necessarily matter who the people are. You need the people that are willing to buy in, and that are willing to put in the work and fit the description and the mold. And I feel like that’s exactly what they’ve built. And that mentality piece is what I’m craving right now in my career.”
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Entering the ninth NWSL season of her career, Weatherholt acknowledged that this was the first year she got to decide where she’d play. “I think having autonomy over where our career goes is so important. And I’m really grateful that I got to experience free agency,” she said.
Though free agency decisions came with pressure, Weatherholt said, “I’m the type of person no matter where I go, I’m going to give all of myself to the city, to the team. So I feel very confident that I’m going to make anything work and give it my all. I’ve done that everywhere I’ve gone. And in the end, making that decision, I did it with full confidence and I’m going to pour everything into this new club.”
In addition, Weatherholt highlighted the veteran presence that accompanies her eight years of service in the league. “I think the Courage have a very clear culture and identity and I’m excited to buy into that and support the leaders that are already there.”
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