Utah Royals FC host North Carolina Courage. The Courage aren’t quite the powerhouse they were in 2018, but they’re second in the league. As the national team players return to their NWSL teams, we’ll get to see a matchup of two full strength squads. Aaron Bellamy of Dirty South Soccer answered some of our questions ahead of this match up.
North Carolina Courage are just past the halfway point in their season. It’s certainly been a different year for them compared to 2018. Since we last spoke in May, NCC have suffered two more losses. Is that cause for concern or does the team take confidence being one point off the top of the league?
It is definitely cause for concern, but the Courage dropped all the way to 7th in the league after the USWNT players left, only to make a run and jump all the way back to 1st place in the game before they returned. There has been a lot of personnel discontinuity this season, and that has shown in the product on the field, but whenever this team gets a long run of games together they start clicking and become almost unstoppable. It seems like everyone is healthy and ready to roll this weekend, so while there is some short term concern, I don’t think the mediocre play will last. I’d be a lot more concerned if we were 1 point out of the playoffs instead of 1 (now 4) points away from 1st place. Paul Riley always talks about how much the team learns from losing, and he hasn’t coached these players to anything less than a Championship appearance in his three years (if you include WNY).
The Courage fell 2-1 to Chicago last Sunday. It’s their second loss to Chicago this year. What went wrong for the Courage in that game? How have the USWNT players done as they’ve reintegrated with the squad?
Chicago, like Utah, just seems able to control the game against North Carolina. Other than Utah, the Red Stars are the only team that the Courage have a losing record against in the regular season (1W-4D-4L), but we’ve held them scoreless in our two postseason meetings. Alyssa Naeher came up big in at least two one-vs-one scenarios, and Kristen Hamilton pinged one off the post that would have drawn the Courage level. It was a poor game for long stretches, but North Carolina wasn’t too far away from drawing or winning. I think it’ll be a lot better for us when Crystal Dunn is back to full strength and McCall Zerboni can move back into a holding midfield role instead of the 10 position that she played last weekend. As for the USWNT players, they were playing on a completely different page of the playbook last weekend, which is to be expected after having very different roles in Jill Ellis’ 4-3-3 compared to Riley’s 4-2-2-2. They should be better integrated this weekend, but still not to their peak ability.
It seems like the controversy around Jaelene Hinkle has only grown. Stephanie Yang did a guest piece for Dirty South Soccer discussing the reaction from some LGBTQ Courage fans in regards to Hinkle’s recent 700 Club interview. Ashlyn Harris had some very strong words for Jaelene Hinkle on Twitter. What’s the fan reaction to this issue? Are people frustrated with Hinkle, over the entire thing, supportive, etc.?
The broad NWSL fan reaction is obviously negative, but all of this recent talk about her interview is just right-wing websites and Twitter personalities trying to cash in on the World Cup bump. Hinkle hasn’t done any new interviews or made any new public releases. The tweet that Harris responded to was a clip from the old interview in which Hinkle said that all of her fellow USWNT players were extremely supportive, but then the tweet was headlined something like ‘The USWNT isn’t inclusive for Christians’ which is complete B.S. There are a lot of fans who are able to put their love of the team and the league at the forefront and root for her as a player without supporting her views. Others who support the team actively root for 22 of the 23 players and accept that what she says is unacceptable but understand that she is an exceptional soccer player. There are even fans who openly support Hinkle and wear her gear to games. Anyone who doesn’t fit into one of these three categories isn’t a Courage fan, but I have not experienced any negative attitudes towards her from Courage fans at games.
I would also push back against the idea that the controversy has grown. In the week following her interview last year, there were people who came to the Courage games to jeer her. That lasted about two weeks and disappeared. Then we can think back to the reaction that she got in Portland during the two playoff games, but the reactions this season have been much more mellowed. Certainly not positive, but much less negative. There is a large section of the broader fanbase that disagrees - rightly - with her opinions, but it’s not something that is heavily focused on. I’m annoyed that she ever did the interview, that it was used the way it was, that the narrator put so much negative emotion into her actions, and that it keeps getting chopped up and reused to sully the league and magnify incendiary discussion.
You can read our responses to Aaron’s question at Dirty South Soccer