Lynn Willams secured all three points for the North Carolina Courage Saturday, with a late winner against the Portland Thorns in stoppage time.
The Star-Spangled Banner played as both the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns kneeled. All the players, coaches and referees wore Black Lives Matters shirts before the first match of the NWSL Challenge Cup kicked off on a national broadcast for the first time ever.
All players from both clubs are kneeling on the pitch in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Also, players on the sideline are kneeling. Referees are wearing matching BLM shirts.#NCvPOR | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/4qHW8R458M— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) June 27, 2020
The Courage started the match at a frantic pace. Abby Dahlkemper played long balls to Crystal Dunn as North Carolina tried to take advantage of overloads down the left side. The Thorns were unable to get a foothold early in the match due to North Carolina’s suffocating counter-press.
Portland goalkeeper Bella Bixby made two big saves on Lynn Williams shots in the first half, proving she was up to the challenge in the absence of Adrian Franch.
The Thorns looked to go very direct at the beginning of the match but started moving through the midfield as they grew into the game. Angela Salem began breaking up Courage attacks in the midfield. She began linking up with midfielders Lindsey Horan, Rocky Rodriguez, and forward Christine Sinclair. Sinclair dropped deep to serve as a passing outlet. These passing combinations allowed Portland to get through North Carolina’s box midfield.
Overall, the Thorns looked decent in defense throughout the first half. They used a situational press in their offensive half to apply on-the-ball pressure and then would drop into a low block when the Courage broke through the initial press. But the Thorns’ transitional defense looked suspect. Curling balls from Jaelene Daniels released Lynn Williams into space repeatedly. Williams looked dangerous in one-on-one situations. Williams was released on a two-on-one but selected to fire a low xG shot rather than passing to an open teammate for the best opportunity of the first half.
“I don’t think they were able to cause us many problems when we do good things,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said about his defense. He went on to describe that the Thorns defended well for the majority of the match but struggled in transition, mentioning how lethal North Carolina are when a mistake is made.
At the start of the second half, the Courage looked uncomfortable but as legs became tired the game started to open up with end to end action. Portland tired and started to drop back in defense, allowing North Carolina more of the ball.
The Thorns were able to keep Debinha and Sam Mewis relatively quiet throughout the first 70 minutes. The best chances for the Thorns came off of set pieces. In the 72nd minute, Horan flashed a header off the post. North Carolina immediately responded as Hailie Mace fired a cross which was met by Debinha as she headed home the first goal of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Portland responded with more possession and control in midfield. A long ball was flighted into the North Carolina box and Horan, again, got her head to the ball. She headed the ball off the post and substitute Simone Charley tapped in her first career goal to tie the match in the 80th minute.
In the 87th minute, Horan fell to the ground after a head-to-head collision, but was able to return to the pitch. Six minutes were added due to the collision and water breaks, but in the 94 minute Mewis crossed to Williams who headed in a second Courage goal from close range.
“Incredibly proud of the work rate and effort... It’s a shame we didn’t get a result,” Parsons said.
The Portland Thorns’ next match is Wednesday July 1 against the Chicago Red Stars. It will be available on CBS All Access at 9:30 am (PT).