In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win or lose. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen North Carolina Courage defender Abby Dahlkemper.
The 24-year-old American was the third overall pick in the 2015 College Draft, selected by the Western New York Flash out of UCLA. Dahlkemper appeared in 40 games for the Flash, winning the NWSL Championship with them in 2016. So far this year for the re-branded and re-located North Carolina Courage she has started all nine games. The Courage head into the break with a 6-3-0 record and are now first in the league standings.
North Carolina 2-0 Kansas City
Leading into this game, I was curious how the Courage would handle FCKC forward Sydney Leroux, who just last week had a two-goal performance against Washington to earn her Player of the Week honors. My curiosity was quickly washed away in the eighth minute when Dahlkemper first made her presence in the game known to Leroux. Kansas City had managed to clear the ball out of their half to Leroux but Dahlkemper out-muscled her for several steps near the midway line. The Courage defender read the situation perfectly to steal the ball away from Leroux and gain possession for her team. In turn, Dahlkemper glided a pass to Jaelene Hinkle who gave it up to Sam Mewis for North Carolina to regroup.
Dahlkemper establishing her presence early was vital to stopping Leroux from gaining any kind of confidence early on, and her work paid off.
One example of Dahlkemper dipping her toes in the offensive end for North Carolina came in the 24th minute. A big part of her game is her ability to provide set pieces that are not only quality but dangerous. Dahlkemper sent in a high-arching corner that found her fellow centerback Abby Erceg. The former New Zealand international sent it towards goal where Mewis redirected it on frame. It surely was going in, but FCKC defender Brittany Taylor got in the way of the header and saved the day for the Blues.
After that play, Commentator Aly Wagner expressed her opinion that she doesn’t think there’s a better set-piece taker in the women’s game. After thinking about it, I would have to agree with Wagner’s sentiments. The Courage have great service and height in their ranks, which has equaled success. Along with Dahlkemper, they have Erceg, who stands in at 5’10 and Mewis who is 5’11. These three combined provide enough evidence to claim the Courage are the most dangerous team when it comes to set pieces so far this season.
In the 44th minute, the roles were reversed for a change. This time it was Mewis taking the corner and Dahlkemper waiting for it. Mewis sent it to the back post and Dahlkemper was right on cue, sending a powerful header just wide of Kansas City’s goal.
Dahlkemper had a busy and productive first half but she didn’t stop there. On the other side in the 60th minute, North Carolina finally capitalized on a chance. The Courage earned another corner and Dahlkemper was up to the task of providing pin-point service. Once again, she found Erceg at the top of the 18, who sent it back into the mix. This time it found veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni near the six-yard box who flicked it in for the 1-0 lead. It was a well-deserved goal and one that had been brewing for some time.
It was brought up in the commentary that North Carolina leads the league in crosses and completions in the box. This game against KC was yet another prime example of why they are atop the standings; they are being efficient and it’s setting them apart from the rest of the league so far.
This upcoming week the NWSL is on international break. So, no games until the weekend of June 17. The United States Women’s National team will be playing Sweden June 8 (ESPN 2 – 1:30 PM ET) and Norway on June 11 (FOX – 1:00 PM ET). One defender who I was glad to see get called up was, in fact, Dahlkemper. She made two appearances for the USWNT back in 2016 and now once again has the chance to show what she can do for the Senior team. I hope she sees some playing time because her play in the NWSL has absolutely been top notch.
If Dahlkemper can keep this pace for her club, don’t be surprised if the North Carolina squad earn another piece of hardware come October.