When the North Carolina Courage recently won the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup for a franchise record seventh title, it was the first time that defender Carson Pickett walked away with a trophy. The seven-year veteran of the league joined the Courage last season before becoming an integral part of the run that ended with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Spirit in the Challenge Cup final.
Picket recorded two assists over seven games in the tournament, and led the team in chances created with 15. For her efforts she was named to the Challenge Cup All-Tournament team along side teammates Abby Erceg and Debinha.
After a career spanning three continents, with stops in the United States, Australia, and Europe, Pickett now has some NWSL silverware, and recently sat down with CBS Sports Attacking Third to discuss North Carolina's Challenge Cup run, and what it feels like to finally be a champion.
"This club is known for winning championships and unfortunately, I haven't won many of them in the pros. So being on this team, I knew when I got here, at some point I would be winning a championship -- and I'm so proud of the group," she said. "I'm gonna be honest, when we started preseason, we weren't sure how it's gonna go, just losing so many amazing players... I think that everyone here is really special, and the group [has] come together so well. So to be able to win the Challenge Cup Championship was just incredible."
During the final half of the 2021 season, the Courage were rocked by off the pitch scandal as headlines around their former coach Paul Riley detailing sexual misconduct stemming from 2015 which overshadowed the remainder of their season. Sean Nahas was named interim head coach as the Courage squeaked into the 2021 playoffs as a sixth seed and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual 2021 Champions Washington Spirit.
Over the offseason, the franchise saw the departures of USWNT players Samantha Mewis, Lynn Williams, and Jessica McDonald. Nahas was named head coach, and the club welcomed new additions Kiki Pickett and Brazilian international Kerolin Nicoli -- who was the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup finals MVP. And they also built through the 2022 NWSL draft.
Rookie Diana Ordoñez was drafted out of the University of Virginia and over five Challenge Cup appearances created five chances and scored the game winning goal during the semifinal against the Kansas City Current. The early contributions have impressed Pickett.
"I'll be the first one to say, and I went through it too, nothing can prepare you for the NWSL. College doesn't prepare you for it, even if you're on the best team. The speed at which the NWSL is played is just unheard of. And you just cannot prepare for it," she said.
"So, I think the things we look at the most at the rookies that come in is how they react to adversity, and how they can cope and quickly make up for all the different things, he speed and stuff like that, and going up against the best players in the league. Watching them grow each day, it has been incredible. But they are putting in the work, and I just appreciate people who want to be here and want to do everything that they can for the team and I think that's what all of our rookies have brought in for sure."
Ahead of the Challenge Cup final, the league announced a new partnership with UKG to be the title sponsor of the Challenge Cup, which meant an increase to the bonus pool. As a result, the Courage players will receive a $10,000 bonus. Pickett, who began playing at a time where $10,000 dollars was more than the minimum salary during her rookie season in 2016, has referred the the bonus as "life changing" for some players. She also believes the new CBA is changing things already for the next generation of players.
The minimum salary is now 35,000, with with 4% annual increases, and players don't have to worry about playing on pitches that aren't regulation standard, an occurrence Pickett also went through during her rookie year as her former club played on a cramped pitch, which was smaller than regulation dimensions.
"I think that's one of the biggest things in the CBA. It's almost sad that has to be in there because we should never be playing on the baseball field anyways, but the fact that we had to put that in there almost says something about how the league has grown just because there was no real standard before, I don't think in certain areas," she said.
"And now these young ones never have to have to play at a college or somewhere where there's no shower, or no changing rooms, and things like that. So I just appreciate that the CBA was passed and there's so many amazing things that these girls are getting to experience."