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‘We have to evolve’: The Courage built a foundation in 2023. Now, they look for consistency.

Kerolin tore her ACL, Emily Fox left for Arsenal and several attacking players departed. But the arrivals of Ashley Sanchez and Felicitas Rauch provided immediate answers ahead of the new season

North Carolina Courage head coach Sean Nahas on the bench
Jaylynn Nash/USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina Courage head coach Sean Nahas does not hide from the fact that his team endured a turbulent buildup to the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season. Brazilian playmaker Debinha’s departure for the Kansas City Current via free agency and a draft-day trade that shipped away rookie sensation Diana Ordoñez saw the Courage lose over half of their goal-scoring production from a high-scoring 2022 season.

“A lot of question marks last year,” Nahas says now, in an interview with The Equalizer. “We didn’t have a really positive offseason last year. But we’re going into this season in a positive light, and that’s good for us.”

That optimism was not a given. Major personnel losses over the past few months threatened to destabilize the foundation the Courage built in 2023. League MVP Kerolin tore her ACL in the final regular-season match of 2023 and will miss most if not all of the coming season, depending on her recovery. United States women’s national team fullback Emily Fox signed with English powerhouse Arsenal on a free transfer, leaving the Courage after only one season.

Then the script changed in North Carolina, and each looming question brought a quick answer. A surprising draft-day trade worked in favor of the Courage this time: North Carolina acquired U.S. international and attacking midfielder Ashley Sanchez, who will be leaned on to create and produce goals in Kerolin’s absence. Five days later came the announcement of fullback Felicitas Rauch, a left-footed German international who serves as about as good an answer as possible to the loss of Fox.

“I think we’ve done a good job of replacing the needs that we have,” Nahas said. “Losing Tess [Boade], you bring in Ash [Sanchez]; you lose Fox, you bring in Feli [Rauch]. Everything else is pretty stable. No one’s replacing Kero, so that’s impossible, but at least we have a piece there that can add a different dynamic to maybe just a normal way we like to play.”

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