It has been a year of change and transition at WakeMed Soccer Park, with two teams playing under different brands from a year ago: North Carolina FC, formerly the Carolina RailHawks and the NC Courage, formerly the Western New York Flash.
Here are 10 storylines on the NCFC and NC Courage seasons to this point:
NCFC: Missed opportunities
With six games remaining in the NASL’s spring season, NCFC (4-4-2, 14 points) sits in the middle of the standings, as the fourth-place team in an eight-club league.
In the NASL, the two teams that finish first in the spring and fall seasons – both of which are 16 games apiece – automatically qualify for the playoffs, while the two nonchampions with the most points accumulated over the entire year also earn spots in the postseason.
A couple of late-game miscues have prevented the team from being positioned higher in the table.
Altogether, NCFC has dropped three points from either winning or drawing positions late in games.
In a 1-1 draw against league-leader Miami FC on April 22, NCFC conceded the tying goal five minutes into stoppage time, while what would have been a home draw against the San Francisco Deltas on May 6 turned into a 2-1 loss when the visitors went ahead in the 87th minute.
NC Courage: Top of the table
The success that the then-Western New York Flash enjoyed last season has traveled south with the team.
Through nine league games, the Courage (6-3, 18 points) sits atop to the NWSL standings.
The team opened its league slate with four consecutive wins. While the Courage has lost three of its last five matches, there’s still a two-point cushion between it and the second-place Chicago Red Stars.
NCFC: an effective offense
With Lance Laing leading the way, NCFC has troubled opposing defenses this season.
The team’s 14 goals on the season are tied for the second-most in the NASL, trailing only Miami FC (16).
Perhaps more impressively, those 14 scores have come on only 107 shots, giving the team a league-best 16 percent shots-to-goals conversion rate.
NC Courage: Williams leading the way
The Courage has had one of the most productive offensive attacks in the NWSL, and much of that has to do with the play of Lynn Williams (three goals, two assists), which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The 24-year-old forward led the league in goals last season and also won the NWSL’s MVP award.
NCFC: Another cup run?
While NCFC’s main focus is always on league play, it has historically made the most of the opportunities presented in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a competition that includes teams from all levels of the American soccer pyramid, including MLS.
In the past, the club reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2007 and has developed a reputation among U.S. soccer fans as the club with a perfect 3-0 record against the L.A. Galaxy in the competition.
This season, NCFC will once again have the opportunity to earn a big win against an MLS club when it hosts the Houston Dynamo in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on June 14 after earning victories over the Carolina Dynamo and the Charlotte Independence.
NC Courage: For club and country
Several Courage players have been in good-enough form to earn opportunities to represent their respective countries on the international stage.
In addition to Williams, midfielder Sam Mewis and defender Abby Dahlkemper each earned spots on the United States squad for games against Sweden and Norway.
Meanwhile, Ashley Hatch, a 22-year-old forward, has made the United States U23 team for the Open Nordic Tournament in Sweden.
Goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo is also with the Canadian national team for its upcoming games against Costa Rica, while midfielder Debinha will take on Spain and Iceland with Brazil.
NCFC: Looking to Laing
NCFC knew it was bringing in a quality NASL player when it signed midfielder Laing in January.
The Jamaica international previously played for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton and Minnesota United FC and was named to the NASL’s Best XI three times.
So far, he’s starred under NCFC coach Colin Clarke.
Through eight league games, Laing leads the team in goals (four) – which ranks second in the NASL – and assists (three).
In NCFC’s 3-1 win against FC Edmonton on April 15, Laing made the most of the chance to face his former club, scoring a difficult goal on a free kick, which earned NASL play of the week honors.
NC Courage: Attendance slightly above average
When Malik announced his purchase of the Flash and their transition to the Courage, he said “we’re going to need more,” regarding the 10,000-seat capacity at WakeMed Soccer Park.
While it’s still early, the team is averaging 4,354 fans through five home matches, which is the fourth-highest mark in the 10-team NWSL.
The average NWSL attendance is 4,841, though that number isn’t truly representative of the entire league since Portland Thorns FC is averaging 16,353 fans per contest, nearly double the amount of the Orlando Pride (8,299), the club with the second-highest average attendance.
Still, the Courage’s average attendance remains a bit higher than NCFC, which is averaging 4,250 spectators through six NASL and U.S. Open Cup home games.
NCFC: Albadawi impressing
NCFC midfielder Nazmi Albadawi, 25, serves as a leading example of how NASL clubs are capable of developing first-team players themselves.
A fixture in the team since 2014, Albadawi, an Athens Drive and N.C. State alumnus, has developed into NCFC’s most promising player.
A report from FourFourTwo.com characterized Albadawi as “possibly the best American talent in the U.S. lower divisions,” and claimed that several MLS clubs including the Columbus Crew, Minnesota United and Toronto FC “have the midfielder on their radars.”
NC Courage: Competing against the best of the best
Unlike NCFC, the Courage plays in its sport’s top league. As a result, some well-known names have already visited WakeMed Soccer Park this season.
When the Courage earned its first home win since moving to Cary, it did so against Portland Thorns FC side whose starting lineup included widely-known United States players Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long and Lindsey Horan.
The Courage’s most recent victory came against FC Kansas City, which features forward Sydney Leroux, who like many of the league’s top American players is a fixture on the United States squad.