The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, July 6, 2020

'Face the Wind': Can the Courage sweep the Challenge Cup? Plus links! Podcasts! And Abby Erceg!

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Three games in, three wins.

Can the Courage sweep the NWSL’s Challenge Cup? It sure appears that way. Even coach Paul Riley isn’t calling his team the underdogs anymore.

While the team motto has been `Burn the Boats,’ Riley said on a zoom call with reporters that the team has a new mantra, courtesy of Sam Mewis.

“Face the Wind is our mantra for this year. And I think it's an important mantra, it shows that this is a tough Challenge Cup. It's tough games to win. It's tough to win five, six, seven games in a row. If you want to be successful, that's what you've got to do,” Riley said. “And I think that's tricky, to say the least. Maybe you can have one off day, but it's got to be in this round now, not in the quarterfinal or, you know, hopefully we qualify after that. But it's not an easy thing to do. You're going to have adversity. There are going to be ups and downs.”

Adversity? OK, maybe a little. But the Courage always seem to figure out a way to keep their opponents out of the net. In three group-stage games they’ve allowed just one goal.

On Sunday in a rematch of last year’s title game against the Red Stars, the Courage outshot Chicago 15-5. (Granted, the Red Stars don’t have Sam Kerr anymore, but they’ve only got one goal in three matches.)

The Red Stars seemed to disrupt the Courage a bit in the opening half. But in the second, it felt inevitable that North Carolina would score. Maybe it was the heat or the altitude, or maybe the Courage just plain wore the Red Stars down.

With all the scoring ability on the Courage, it was just a bit unusual that the goal came by way of defender Abby Erceg, although she has seven goals since she’s been in the league. Six of her goals are on headers, too.

Following the game, The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf asked Riley if he saw the rest of the field was taking on some of North Carolina’s characteristics.

In one word: Yep.

“I see teams a lot more teams high pressing, getting up the field. They’re probably following Liverpool, the best team in the world. That’s what they do, and the world has gotten a chance to see that,” Riley said. “In the women’s game I think the high press is the best way to do it, the best way to combat any team. We’ve been able to do that but you have to be fit, you have to be able to do it for 90 minutes, and that’s the tricky part. If you come against a good team, they can break you down.”

Of course Riley mentioned Liverpool.

Anyway, I have a story on Erceg this week, and you can read about how Riley referenced Liverpool when talking about his captain, too. Stay tuned.

Hey, wanted to add a shout-out to Sandra Herrera for her wonderful work providing analysis for the tournament on CBS. She’s been really, really good.

PS: I purposely kept it brief today because there are loads of links to peruse. My thoughts don’t matter much when there’s SO MUCH GOOD CONTENT IT’S OVERWHELMING!

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LINKS!

(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! apeterson@ap.org.)

A bit about the political infighting that influenced the 2023 World Cup vote from The Telegraph.

Katie Whyatt for the Telegraph on Lucy Bronze’s efforts to educate herself about racism.

The New York Times on how a PPP loan helped the NWSL through the pandemic.

I did a story for AP on the Reign’s Bethany Balcer. I also did a story on Julie Ertz and Casey Short and their joint statement about their emotional on-field moment during the national anthem. Hill’s statement is in there. It got a lot of play on FOX.

Jayda Evans for the Seattle Times did a nice story on the Reign’s Jasmyne Spencer.

Steph Yang for All for XI on Utah’s Tziarra King and grabbing some attention right at the start of the Challenge Cup.

Hannah Withiam for The Athletic on Mallory Pugh resetting away from the Challenge Cup.

Meg Linehan’s piece for the Athletic on the dominance of the Courage. Meg also wrote a nice piece on how the NWSL arrived at the anthem policy.

Kim McCauley also took a look at the Courage for All for XI.

Sandra Herrera, doing absolutely amazing job on camera as an analyst for CBS before the games, wrote about Sabrina Flores for the CBS site.

Lindsey Adler did a nice job with this story on McCall Zerboni.

Bria Felicien wrote about Jennifer Cudjoe’s path to the NWSL for The Equalizer.

Jeff Kassouf of The Equalizer wrote about the new-look Thorns.

Charles Olney wrote about using Midge Purce at fullback. Why, why, why?

PODCAST LINKS!

Hey, I’ve wanted to link podcasts as a section for a while. If you have any you like, email me!

Grant Wahl spoke to Sarah Gordon for his Futbol podcast.

Women’s Soccer Review Podcast with an all-star cast!

The Thorns in Spanish podcast is here.

Kassouf spoke to Saskia Webber for his Kickin’ Back podcast.

Red Smoke Radio pondered the suburbs in Herriman, Utah.

The Southside Trap podcast is always good.

The 123rd Minute Podcast from the folks at Backline Soccer.

Meg’s Full Time Podcast for The Athletic.

And there’s also Actually the Dash.

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TWEET (S) of the Week


Five at The IX: ABBY ERCEG!

A few of us interviewed Abby Erceg on Saturday, a day before she scored the lone goal in North Carolina’s game against the Red Stars. Here are a few excerpts!

Question: How would you describe your play so far?

Erceg: I think the first game for us was a little bit disappointing. We don't feel like we played very well. But I mean, going in, that's always going to happen. The preseason was short. It was tough, that first game was never going to be how we wanted it to be. The way that we play and the standards that we have, we just didn't quite hit it. So going into that second game, that was a real focus of ours to make sure that, at the very least, we hit the standards that we always say that we want to hit. And I think we did that. Just simple things like full speed, make sure the shape of the team was good. Things like finishing and relationships built between the players will come. And that only comes with game time. So from from game on to game two, there was definitely an improvement. But I think as the tournament goes on, we're just going to see it get better and better.

Question: What is it like playing without fans in the stadium? And what is it like in the bubble?

Erceg: It was different. I think it levels the playing field a lot. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, I don't know. But we miss it. We miss the fans. We miss interacting with them. We miss having people supporting us. So that side of it is a little unfortunate. But on the flip side, we know that they can watch at home, so that's great as well. The bubble? I mean it's just a continuation of what we've been doing for the whole preseason anyway. You know, at first it was tough being sort of restricted. You are literally going to trainging and straight back, not leaving the hotel. But at this point that's what we have to do to play, and if that's what we have to do, then we're going to do it. Obviously not ideal. But like I said, we want to play. And if that's how we get it done, then that's what we've got to do.

Question: How did you feel about New Zealand and Australia getting the World Cup?

Erceg: Obviously, really, really excited. I think the last time New Zealand hosted a soccer tournament was the under-17s maybe, for women? I was there when that happened. And it was just really exciting. So for us, it's exciting. We needed something like this to bring attention to the sport in New Zealand. You know, it's not our main sport and to get such a big event is going to be huge for the game. Whether or not I can play in that? We'll see how the body holds up. But I'm really excited. It's just such a good thing for the sport and a good thing for the country.

Question: Do you hear from any fans from New Zealand watching these games? Do you do you hear any feedback?

Erceg: I mean, first and foremost, I've got my family and they watch the games when they can. And, you know, you've got some some diehard fans that stay up and watch the games, but the time difference sometimes can be a little bit difficult. But, yeah, we do get a few, not as many as I'd like. Obviously with most of our national team overseas playing, and especially with the couple of girls in the NWSL, we would like a bigger fan base. We would like more attention on the players here. But like I said, it's not the main sport. And so having this World Cup is just going to help with that.

Question: Does it feel like kind of a World Cup-ish tournament because you guys are in, you know, a bubble, so to speak?

Erceg: Yeah, it's World Cup-ish for sure. Obviously, a few things are different, off days are a little bit different in that we can't really leave and do anything. But it's exactly the same. It feels very similar. You're playing games every three days. It's basically recovery, maybe a light training game in between and straight into another game. So it's very familiar to me. But for a lot of players, this is new, and it's a new format. So in terms of a team going through this process and in terms of the league going through this process, it's very new for everyone. You do you do kind of fall back on the experience of a couple of players that have been to a World Cup. We've got Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper, so we can fall on their experience a little bit with these.

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