16 June 2020

‘We’re the first back in action and I can’t wait,’ says North Carolina Courage’s Abby Dahlkemper ahead of NWSL Challenge Cup

Next weekend, the NWSL becomes the first to return to action in North America.

And that will hopefully mean more fans than ever before, says North Carolina Courage defender Abby Dahlkemper.

The NWSL Challenge Cup will begin on June 27 and there are 25 games planned over 30 days in Utah.

Courage will play their first match against Portland Thorns on the opening day of the tournament and while the amount of games may sound daunting to some, Dahlkemper cannot wait to run out on the field again.

In an exclusive interview with NewsChain, she said: "I think it's amazing. I know, speaking for myself personally, I was excited to hear that there was an opportunity to even have the chance to compete and play this year. 

"We're the first league back in America and I think that is really exciting. Our commissioner, the NWSL, doctors, physicians and everyone involved did an amazing job quickly and safely.

"We're happy and just excited to compete again. CBS has rights to the games and is excited to show the matches and the quality and calibre of talent in the league, it is unmatched.

"Every team has amazing talent from top to bottom and we're excited to show that and all the teams are working really hard to best prepare.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of people tuning in and watching. Having the NWSL as the first league back, hopefully there will be more people watching and more eyes on us and that talent will show even more.”

Dahlkemper won the World Cup with the US last summer (PA Images)

Dahlkemper and her team-mates won the league last season after they beat the Chicago Red Stars 4-0 in the final.

And although the format is completely different this year, the roster at the club still see the tournament as a way to defend their title.

“For sure, I think we're going into it wanting to win,” she added.

"[We’re going to be] taking it one game at a time, we’re very focused. The format is very different from a normal NWSL season when it spans out seven months, but this is seven games in one month.

"So it’s a different schedule and format but it’s more so about the process and taking it one day at a time, one game at a time and really kind of focusing on getting better. 

“We have an awesome roster and the girls are pushing each other and striving to get better, so we’re excited.”

All nine clubs of the NWSL will have to adapt to the new layout of the league but there is also something else they will have to contend with - no crowds.

The 27 year-old has said it will be an adjustment to have the tournament behind-closed-doors.

"I definitely think we will have to make our own energy, we'll just have to deal with it and feed off our own energy. 

"The other team has to deal with it as well and I think this year is about dealing with adjustments and dealing with different things and that's an important lesson in life.

“We're going to try and not let that affect us.”

With all of this in mind, Dahlkemper has said training at the club has been ‘tough’ in preparation for the Cup, given the huge impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And it is something Dahlkemper says the club has addressed.

“We had a really good team talk and we had a meeting within our club and with our owner and general manager. We have several black girls on our team and we were actually able to listen and learn from them and educate ourselves,” she added.

"I think that’s the most important thing, to listen and educate and really hear what they are trying to say and stand in solidarity with them.

"Moving forward as a league there's definitely things in the works and as a team and as a club there are things in the works.

"I think in the future certain ideas such as arm bands, t-shirts, you know just certain gestures that we can show signs of standing in solidarity with social movements moving forward, we'll definitely be doing that.

"Speaking for the NWSL and as a club, so in the future that will definitely be on display. 

“It's definitely been a moving and powering time and it's brought us together in a sense and it's been eye-opening. 

”Personally, for me, it’s about eduation, learning and listening and trying to make a difference with what I can do and the platform I'm given. And try and make a positive impact in any way I can."

The NWSL and its clubs have shown solidarity with Black Lives Matter in recent weeks and governing body US Soccer have also made a move which highlights progression.

They have reversed the ban on players taking a knee during the national anthem and Dahlkemper says the move is ‘positive and important’. 

The World Cup winner said: “I think that's awesome that they were able to do that and reverse that stance. 

”You see other leagues, like the National Football League, do that as well. 

"You see people coming out and saying it's not about disrespecting the anthem or the country or the military or anyone. 

"But rather standing up for social injustice and standing up for black lives and that's a really positive thing and obviously so critical. 

"To see that reverse is very important.”  

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