Cary, NC (04/22/22) – The Washington Spirit will face the North Carolina Courage on Saturday afternoon in both clubs’ sixth Challenge Cup match at 1:00 p.m. EST at WakeMed Soccer Park. The match will be broadcast on CBS for fans in the United States and on Twitch for international viewers. Both squads are coming off two-goal wins: the Spirit took down NJ/NY Gotham FC by a 3-1 margin last weekend after the Courage staved off an Orlando Pride rally 4-2.
North Carolina once again finds itself atop the table, holding an unbeaten record of 3-0-2 through its first five matches. Despite the phenomenal start, the Courage is in danger of missing out on the Challenge Cup semifinals with a loss on Saturday. The Courage, known for its run of three straight NWSL Shields since the club’s inception and back-to-back league championships in 2018 and 2019, surprisingly has not fared well through the first two editions of the Challenge Cup. North Carolina lost in the tournament quarterfinals in 2020 and failed to make it out of group play in 2021.
Since North Carolina’s first season in the NWSL in 2017, the side holds a 10-4-2 record against the Spirit, including a 5-1 record at home and a 2-0-1 head-to-head record in the Challenge Cup. All eyes will be on Courage star Debinha, the all-time leader in Challenge Cup goals with seven, as the club goes head-to-head with the defending champions and 2022 Challenge Cup co-leader in goals scored with four, Trinity Rodman.
Halftime of the first matchup between these two sides served as a turning point for the Spirit, who struggled to put the ball past the goalkeeper in its first two and a half games. Since halftime of the March 30 match, Washington has put up nine goals after only managing one goal in its first two and a half games. The Courage, however, has been much more consistent with five goals before and after the 45-minute mark on March 30. If the red-hot Spirit attacking third can keep up its momentum, North Carolina will have its hands full in trying to clinch the East.
After three straight draws to open 2022, Washington can win its third consecutive match on Saturday and clinch a spot in the Challenge Cup semifinals. The door to a semifinal berth will stay slightly cracked with a draw against North Carolina while a loss will end the Spirit’s 2022 preseason tournament. In the event of a draw, Washington will look for a loss by the Portland Thorns and a loss or draw from the Chicago Red Stars for a chance to get into the semifinals as a wild card.
The Spirit is no stranger to the injury bug so far this season, missing time from Emily Sonnett, Dorian Bailey and Andi Sullivan among others. This weekend, Washington will once again be without Tara McKeown and Gaby Vincent, while Taylor Aylmer joins the inactive list due to card accumulation after her second yellow card of the tournament against Gotham FC. Despite the extensive list of inactive players, the Spirit’s goal-scoring core of Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez are expected to play. By scoring this weekend, Rodman would set a new NWSL Challenge Cup record for most consecutive games with a goal at four.
After a slow start to 2022, scoring only three goals in three matches, Washington has put seven balls in the back of the net in its past two games. With a goal differential of +5, Washington is tied with North Carolina. Both sides have scored ten goals and allowed five through five matches played.
Following Saturday afternoon’s match, the Spirit will play host to OL Reign on Sunday, May 1 at Audi Field to kick off the 2022 regular season. If the team clinches a semifinal berth, it would also play on Wednesday, May 4 for a spot in the Challenge Cup final on Saturday, May 7.