North Carolina Courage opens Challenge Cup with late victory over Thorns

North Carolina Courage -- Lynn Williams
Herriman, Utah — June 27: Lynn Williams #9 of North Carolina Courage fights for the ball with Emily Menges #5 of Portland Thorns FC during the first round of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium on June 27, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images).

Herriman, Utah — Hailie Mace was, as the old saying goes, as quick as a bunny. Many fans watching the North Carolina Courage take on the Portland Thorns FC in the opening NWSL Challenge Cup match didn’t even see Mace take the pitch. However, she made her presence known quickly.

Mace was a game-changer for the Courage. She joined the two-time NWSL championship winning team this offseason after spells in Europe. Mace opened up her NWSL career in the 71st minute. Only four minutes later, she sent a lovely ball into Brazilian midfielder Debinha, who slotted the opening goal.

Substitutions made all the difference for both clubs.

Simone Charley entered the match in the 54th minute. In the 80th minute, Charley scored her first NWSL goal after some chaos in the box after an initial deflection of a Lindsey Horan shot. Charley celebrated with her teammates, believing that a draw was in the works — or a Portland comeback.

But, the Courage had different plans.

Lynn Williams, who started and featured the whole match, was knocking at every opportunity against Portland. She sent a few shots over the crossbar, some wide and a couple landed into the hands of Bella Bixby, the Thorns goalkeeper.

However, her time came in the 94th minute of stoppage time. Williams found her opening goal of the tournament, giving the Courage a late victory to kick off the Challenge Cup. After the match, Williams said

“I think that a lot of us, the first 20 minutes, we were excited to get out of there,” Williams said. “We were getting the rust off a bit. More just excited. The altitude kicked in and we wanted to settle down, play our game, try to keep the ball and string some passes together… I’m happy to get back out there.”

Players take a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Players took a knee before the match started in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Every player on the sidelines — except for Sam Murphy — took a knee during the anthem.

However, all players took a knee during a group moment of silence. All coaches, for each side, took a knee too, along with staff members. The referees did stand, though.

The Courage and Thorns issued a joint statement saying, “We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against black people and people of color in America. We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”

After the match, Sam Mewis of the North Carolina Courage said that everyone wants to keep the momentum of the Black Lives Matters protests going throughout the tournament.

“I think our team is doing what we can to help sustain that momentum by putting on an auction to benefit the National Black Justice Coalition,” Mewis said. “We’re really proud of ourselves for being able to put that on. It’s honoring both black lives and Pride. And I think that, today hopefully was a powerful statement, it was an emotional time. I hope both teams’ message comes through clearly.”

 

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