North Carolina Courage marks next step of growing women’s soccer in Tar Heel State

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RALEIGH — One month after Entrepreneur Steve Malik announced several initiatives to bring top-level professional soccer to the Tar Heel State, North Carolina Football Club took another step in achieving those goals on Monday by announcing its acquisition of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) 2016 Champion Western New York Flash.

The club will be renamed North Carolina Courage (also referred to as NC Courage) and will play at WakeMed Soccer Park in Raleigh moving into the 2017 NWSL season.

N.C. Courage will begin play in the National Women's Soccer League this season. Photo courtesy- North Carolina FC
N.C. Courage will begin play in the National Women’s Soccer League this season. (Photo courtesy  North Carolina FC)

“We are excited to be able to bring the highest level of professional women’s soccer back to the Triangle,” said Malik. “This is an important step in the plan we set forth last month, and as we continue to develop, we look forward to the continued support of our community.

“I look forward to a long and rewarding partnership as we continue to grow the women’s game in North Carolina and the nation,” he said.

The State of North Carolina has always been a leader in women’s soccer. It has produced several legends, including Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Heather O’Reilly, Carla Overbeck,  in addition to UNC women’s coaching icon Anson Dorrance, who will serve as this year’s keynote speaker during the Wilmington Hammerheads FC Youth spring luncheon on April 21.

North Carolina is also home to the most dominant college soccer program in history, the 22-time NCAA National Champion UNC Tar Heels. Four teams from the state participated in the 2016 Women’s College Cup, including UNC-Charlotte, NC State (Third Round), Duke (Quarterfinals), and UNC-Chapel Hill (Semifinals).

“We have seen tremendous success in North Carolina with women’s soccer,” Malik said. “The numerous accomplishments of local college programs, paired with the continued success of the US Women’s National Team, have driven interest in women’s youth programs. We feel the time is right to bring the highest level of women’s professional soccer to the Triangle.”

North Carolina FC could soon become an MLS franchise. Photo courtesy- North Carolina FC.
North Carolina FC could soon become an MLS franchise. (Photo courtesy  North Carolina FC.)

The popularity of women’s soccer- largely due to the success of the U.S. Women’s National Team – has inspired a generation of young girls, with several local products now competing within the college ranks.

Wilmington Hammerheads FC Youth has also seen tremendous growth in the sport with over 800 girls competing for the local organization. The ability for these young female athletes in the state to now have an opportunity to follow a professional athlete who wears a crest featuring their home state can only help continue to grow the sport.

“Any time our players get a chance to see a higher level of soccer that they aspire to, whether that is the college game or professional soccer, is a great thing for our players,” said Wilmington Hammerheads Youth FC Executive Director Carson Porter. “What is going on in Raleigh right now with the possibility of an MLS team and now the addition of a women’s pro team is great for all soccer players and fans in North Carolina.
 
“Every soccer player has a hero, someone they watch and think to themselves that’s who I want to be, that’s what I want to do,” Porter added. “An example of the excitement in our community is when Women’s National Team player Heather O’Reilly spoke at our annual luncheon last year.  We really saw the excitement of all of our players but in particular the girls in our program.  They froze when they saw her, because they watch her play on TV with the National team and to have her here was just an awesome thing.”

In December, Malik rebranded the former Carolina RailHawks to North Carolina FC to help bolster chances of getting an expansion club in Major League Soccer.

He announced an aggressive public campaign aimed at being awarded an MLS franchise within the next 12-18 months. This desire comes after discussions with MLS executives over the last year, as well as a market study, which reinforced the Triangle would be a successful MLS Market.

In addition, Malik stated he is planning to accelerate efforts to finalize a location and begin construction on a new 20,000+ seat stadium. The location and renderings will be unveiled in the New Year.

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