North Carolina added yet another trophy to their cabinet over the weekend: the 2022 Challenge Cup trophy.
With their 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit on Saturday, the Courage now have seven titles as a club, adding this year’s Challenge Cup to three NWSL Shields (2017-2019), two NWSL Championships (2018, 2019), and a Women’s International Champions Cup (2019). The Washington Spirit, for their part, were handed their first loss of the year which also ended their 20-game unbeaten streak.
The first 45 minutes of Saturday’s match included a goal from both teams, with North Carolina striking first. At the 10-minute mark, Debinha beat Spirit and U.S. women’s national team defender Kelley O’Hara and played Kerolin in behind the Washington defense. Kerolin’s shot snuck past goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury to put the Courage up 1-0. The goal was Kerolin’s first in the NWSL and the first goal scored and assisted by two Brazilians in the NWSL since 2017.
Both Debinha and Kerolin were electric in the final third throughout the game. Despite dominating for most of the match, North Carolina struggled to finish in the 18-yard box. This, combined with big saves by Kingsbury, kept the Courage off the scoresheet until the second half. Washington’s Ashley Hatch evened the score in the 35th minute off a ball from Trinity Rodman, beating Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland at the far post.
Rodman and Hatch were the only two Spirit players to record shots on goal on Saturday, with two each.
The second half began much like the first, with a back-and-forth battle between the two teams. As the game progressed and fatigue set in, though, the match featured several tough challenges that led to a number of injuries.
Washington defender Sam Staab fouled Kerolin from behind in the box, but no penalty was awarded. Instead, Kerolin left the game with an injury and the Courage were awarded a corner kick following the foul. Washington’s Taylor Alymer scored an own goal off Carson’s Pickett’s service, which served as the eventual game winner for North Carolina. Then, Courage defender Abby Erceg suffered a studs-up challenge and Washington Spirit’s Jordan Baggett went down with an apparent head injury that led to her being stretchered off the field in the 90th minute.
In light of these events, the referee added 13 minutes of stoppage time to the end of the game.
Still, the Courage held onto their lead and collected their first trophy since 2019. Kerolin, who is certainly a player to watch during the regular season, was awarded the 2022 Challenge Cup Final’s Most Valuable Player award. With the Challenge Cup behind them, both the Courage and the Spirit will set their sights on rest and recovery before resuming their regular seasons next weekend against Gotham FC and Angel City, respectively.