by: Becca Rightnour | @BeccaFCwrites
The National Women’s Soccer League returned to action in the 2020 Challenge Cup with an exciting game between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns. The reigning NWSL champions, the NC Courage won the contest 2-1, with the game-winning goal scored in stoppage time by Lynn Williams.
All three of the game’s goals were scored in the second-half with the Courage’s Debinha from Brazil, striking first at the 75th minute. Portland battled back with a header by rookie Simone Charley to tie the game. The Courage broke the stalemate during the six-minutes of stoppage time, due to an amazing goal by Williams.
What was unusual about this game, was the fact that North Carolina didn’t dominate as much as they had in the previous two times that they’d played the Portland Thorns. In fact, most of the possession was split evenly with fifty-one percent going towards the Courage and forty-nine percent going towards the Thorns.
Portland, despite losing 9-key players in the offseason, looked decent against a relatively unchanged North Carolina side. Due to an injury to their normal starting keeper Adrianna Franch, they played rookie Bella Bixby in her first appearance for the club. Despite some initial saves in the first half, it seems like Bixby’s youth and inexperience cost her some easy saves. Likewise, Stephanie Labbe who plays in the goalkeeping role for both the Courage and Canadian National Team did not look as crisp as usual. This is surprising due to North Carolina’s tendency to keep clean sheets.
Both teams seemed to uncharacteristically struggle in the Utah altitude and heat. The Utah pitch also claimed an injury victim, Ally Watt who plays for the Courage went down with a non-contact injury and had to be stretchered off the field. Her replacement Hailie Mace did end up assisting on a goal, however.
The real storyline of this first game of the Challenge Cup was the camaraderie and unity that the two teams displayed as they knelt during the National Anthem and then knelt again for a moment of silence. They also wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts for warmups and had black armbands throughout the game. This solidary shows that somethings are bigger than soccer and that even bitter rivals like the Thorns and Courage, can put aside their differences and stand together.
If you’d like to know the three players to watch for each team participating in the NWSL Challenge Cup, check out my article.
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