The NC Courage have become a big part of our family’s lives this past year. We’ll be fans for life. Let me tell you a bunch of the reasons why.

Who are the North Carolina Courage?

The NC Courage are a two-year-old women’s professional soccer team. They play their home games in Cary, North Carolina — a town just South of us here in Raleigh. Technically, the Courage are more like five years old, starting as the Western New York Flash, where they were an original founding member of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). They relocated to North Carolina in 2017 — and that’s where our introduction to the team first began.

Soccer Heightening in our Family

Over the past four years, soccer has quickly become a big part of our lives. Mainly, it’s because both of our boys are playing in the North Carolina Football Club Youth (NCFCY) organization. Our oldest, Tyler is a talented all-around player in his second full year at the challenge level. Our youngest, Nolan is a progressing and talented recreational player. In 2017, the youth organization transitioned from CASL to NCFCY, and with it, a stronger association with the professional NCFC and NC Courage squads.

Nolan NCFCYAdditionally, I’ve been coaching since Tyler was in his second season as a rec player. I moved up with him to challenge. With that, I was looking for more places to pick up and understand the game. The professional duo of teams in the North Carolina Football Club and the NC Courage was an obvious choice.

The whole family had already begun to be drawn to the women’s game in a major way, watching all of the US World Cup games over 2015 where the United States eventually won it all.

We had also been fans of the team NCFC had been before — the Railhawks. Tyler had even had a birthday party at the pitch, and we had been to a handful of games.

NC Courage on the pitch

Inaugural Courage Season

In the Courage’s first year playing in North Carolina, we attended a pair of games and were hooked instantly. That first year we watched them play against Orlando, and then their 1-0 victory against the Red Stars that propelled them to the NWSL Championship Final where they, unfortunately, fell to the Portland Thorns 1-0.

That inaugural season, the NC Courage finished the regular season in first place with a 16-7-1 record, winning the NWSL shield. Through 2017’s season, no NWSL team had ever won both the regular season (NWSL shield) and the championship — a bit of an NWSL curse.

Season Tickets

Merritt Mathias with TylerIn the past couple years, my wife, Amanda and I had been toying with the idea of getting season tickets to a local sports team — a way to elevate our fandom a bit, and just support a local team wholeheartedly. Initially, we looked at the Carolina Hurricanes, but between prices, the number of games, and the on-ice product, we declined to pull the trigger.

But at just over a year ago, I decided to get the whole family a big Christmas present — season tickets for the 2018 NC Courage season. Christmas morning, Amanda was psyched to be season ticket holders. The boys took a little bit more convincing. At their ages of 4 and 8 at the time, both were wanting the men’s season tickets — you know because girls have cooties and all.

NC Courage 2018 Season

Hinkle w KeefersThe 2018 season was an absolute blast, and an amazing time to come into the fray full-time as season ticket holders. We only missed two games all season — one because of weather (the season opener), and one because Tyler had an out-of-town soccer tournament of his own. Other than that, we were present at every other home game, and we streamed every single away game.

The on-field product was absolutely amazing all season, and late in the season, while attending a men’s NCFC match, Tyler admitted that the women were superior. He confessed the Courage were more fun to watch. We went to multiple NCFC games. I’m not taking anything away from NCFC, but it was satisfying to hear we converted Tyler.

Courage Player Interaction

As awesome as the on-field product was, the real icing on the cake, and the thing that really sold our boys, and my wife and I to a lesser extent were all the interactions we had with the players, coaches and staff throughout the 2018 season.

At our first home game, rather than sit around in traffic at the conclusion of the match, the four of us went down to the railing separating the stands from the pitch. The boys got to meet a bunch of the players, get autographs, take photos, and just talk.

I cannot tell you what a great first impression the girls made on our family. They were all genuine and legitimately thankful for our attendance and our support. That first 2018 home game solidified a tradition for us, staying after each and every game to congratulate the team, talk to them, and to get them to autograph tickets and miscellaneous merchandise. We’ve still got to frame some of that autographed merch from the season.

Sabrina D’Angelo

Throughout the course of the season, several of the players ended up knowing our boys by face and a few knew them by name. Nolan latched onto goalkeeper, Sabrina D’Angelo early on. The interactions post-game between Nolan and D’Angelo were a highlight for both Nolan and for Amanda and I. All season, he talked a big game when she was at a distance, but retreated into a rare shy shell often when actually talking to her after the matches.

Their friendship fully cemented in the final home game when Nolan and Sabrina swapped jerseys — a gesture that we’re grateful for. We had tried for a while to get a Nike D’Angelo jersey for Nolan through the NC Courage store and Nike, but it just wasn’t possible/for sale. I offhandedly mentioned it to Sabrina after a match, and she said Nolan could have one of her 2017 jerseys. That’s when Amanda offered to do a jersey swap. So cool — and just one of the many great interactions between D’Angelo and our family, along with so many other NC Courage players.

Lots of Other Player Interactions

McCall Zerboni with NolanWhile D’Angelo definitely left a lasting impression on Nolan, and the rest of the family, there were a lot of other players. Again, they all were personable, and interactive post game. Former Tar Heel, Jess McDonald was always great to talk with this season — from the post-game signings and chats at the home pitch to the outside of Portland’s Providence Park, she’s been so much fun to get to know just a little bit.

McCall Zerboni has always been super-personable post-game. She took interest in Nolan especially, and it was as high energy after the game as she is in the middle of it. Other players that come to mind in post-game interactions are Jalene Hinkle, Sam Mewis, Elizabeth Eddy, Abby Erceg, Lynn Williams, among others.

2018 NWSL Championship

Amanda and Ryan at Providence ParkIn May, the NWSL announced that the 2018 Championship for NWSL would happen in Portland, Oregon — a place neither Amanda and I had ever been. With the record-breaking season the Courage were having, we decided to get tickets and make a long weekend out of it. While there were still months to go before fully knowing if the Courage would make it all the way to the championship game, we were all in. I just hoped us purchasing tickets wouldn’t jinx the girls in any way.

As it turned out, it didn’t. Even a hurricane couldn’t stop the 2018 Courage. Mother nature did rob us of being able to see the Courage at home in the semi-finals. Ultimately, we got to see them play and win in the biggest game. They played what ended up being a home field advantage match for their opponents — the Portland Thorns.

Hanging in Portland

2018 Champions NC CourageAmanda and I flew out to Portland for an extended weekend in Oregon, with the NWSL championship being the centerpiece. We arrived a few days early and got to walk over to a Courage practice and cheer them on with a few other fans. It turned out to be mainly family members of the Courage players. We ended up meeting and talking with a bunch of the parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

We got to know several of the families. Everyone was super welcoming and great to interact with, and we ended up hanging out with them on several occasions. The hope is we’ll see some of them again here at a future match.

Championship Gameday

NC Courage flag flying providence parkOriginally, our tickets we purchased were the best available, but after meeting up with the Courage family members, we ended up switching our tickets to be near the families and with the other fans who had traveled to the game. Our seats were in the second row for the match where we stood the whole entire match, cheering the whole time as a minority cheering for the NC Courage. The stands were completely packed. The volume level was booming loud. As the Courage scored their first goal, then a second, and a third, things got a bit quieter. Thorns fans around us heckled a lot. But it got to be less and less as it was obvious the visiting (but No. 1 seed) was going to be victorious.

Our purchase of tickets to the NWSL championship before the teams were determined thankfully didn’t jinx the Courage. Our first road game would end up being the Championship, where the girls from NC would end up dominating Portland in a 3-0 win.

Post-Game

The post-game celebration of the Courage winning it all was great fun. The quickly assembled stage at midfield elevated the players as they got their individual medals and NWSL trophy. The Courage all came to our section with trophy raised in triumph, clapping as confetti rained down. As we made the way around the large Providence Park, to go nearer the player benches, we congratulated fellow fans and family.

Amanda, Jess McDonald and RyanExiting the facility, we ended up waiting with Courage family members. We saw Courage/NCFC owner Steve Malik, trophy around his neck. Amanda got to wear it and get photographed with the medal. Malik thanked everyone for coming out.

Amanda and I talked to McDonald a bit, as well as Hinkle as they exited the facility, before ultimately riding back to the Courage’s hotel with Courage family to take part it the post-championship celebration.

On the upper floors of their hotel, in a relatively small ballroom, everyone was fired up — players, coaches, staff significant others, family, fans, and putting the exclamation point on the season, that had only a single loss, an NWSL Shield, and an NWSL Championship. The curse was finally broken by our own NC Courage.

It was so surreal witnessing very up close and personal the celebration, the speeches and elation. View the speeches and some of the celebration here.

2019 and Beyond

It was a no-brainer that we’d renew our season tickets. The 2019 season can’t come quick enough for the Keefer family. We’re ready to see the NC Courage back on the pitch with the majority of the team back, cheering for them, and talking to them afterward. Zerboni should be back from injury. Williams and McDonald will still be scoring machines, and the hope is they defend and retain the NWSL shield, and return to the championship match in the 2019 season.

We only missed watching a single game all season, because of one of Tyler’s soccer tournaments. We attended all but two home games. Our goal in 2019 is to make it to all the home games and to hit a least one road game (Orlando at least).

Thanks NC Courage!

We’ve had such a blast being fans of the NC Courage for the past year and look forward to the years to come. We’ve had a wonderful time learning about the personalities, fire, and skill of every player, coach and staff members associated with the team. Thanks for letting us be a part of it all, and here’s to many more seasons.

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