Cary, NC (05/07/2022) – The Washington Spirit came up just short of the club’s first Challenge Cup championship, losing its first competitive match in exactly nine months. The North Carolina Courage capitalized on a late defensive mistake by Washington to take the preseason tournament title.
For the third time this Challenge Cup, the Spirit conceded a goal in the opening ten minutes of play and, for the third time this Challenge Cup, the side was able to battle back even. After Trinity Rodman crossed a ball to Ashley Hatch, whose close-range shot was saved in impressive fashion by North Carolina goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, the Courage quickly went the length of the field to turn the tables. Debinha led the attack and fed a through ball to Kerolin who tucked a shot under Aubrey Kingsbury and into the lower left corner for the 1-0 lead.
The Courage nearly doubled its lead just three minutes later when Emily Gray tried to bury home a left-footed shot from close-range that was saved by a diving Aubrey Kingsbury. Another five minutes later, Debinha fired a shot off the right post before Kingsbury made another save, this time off a header from Diana Ordoñez. In minute 25, Debinha drove half the length of the pitch, seemingly cutting through the Spirit defense with ease before firing a shot wide right of the net.
Ashley Sanchez had two great feeds to Rodman in the 30th and 32nd minutes but both ensuing shots were saved by the Courage’s Rowland, the latter of which from very close range. Finally, in the 35th minute, the defending league champions broke through when Rodman fed a through ball to Hatch who finished with a ball to the outside corner that bounced in to level the score at one goal apiece.
Before we headed into the locker room for halftime, the Courage threatened again when Emily Gray was gifted a great chance inside the box after a failed clearing attempt by the Spirit but her shot went wide. Even at 1-1, the Spirit and Courage had 45 minutes to break the two sides’ head-to-head draw streak.
Coming out of halftime, Washington quickly earned a corner kick and set up Ashley Hatch with a header in the box but Katelyn Rowland was too quick for the defending Golden Boot winner and made the save to keep the score even. Three minutes later, North Carolina’s Kerolin drove in on the Spirit goal at a sharp angle and rifled a shot off the glove of Kingsbury into the side of the net and out of play. Carson Pickett then had a near-scoring chance herself when she sent a hard shot from outside the box slightly high.
In the 57th minute, Ashley Hatch set Ashley Sanchez up with another look at the net when she headed a pass into space for the Spirit’s leading shot-taker. Sanchez was able to make good contact with the ball but sent it wide right. The 65th minute saw the Courage with its best opportunity to retake the lead when a cross deep in the offensive box found a wide open Ordoñez in front of the net. Ordoñez’s one-timer was ever-so-slightly mistimed and the ball missed the net, leaving us with 25 minutes to decide a champion.
The Courage seized control of the momentum in the 68th minute after a hard tackle of Kerolin in the box. Many fans in attendance voiced their opinion that the home team should’ve been awarded a penalty shot and North Carolina’s Merritt Mathias even earned a yellow card for her expression of disagreement. Despite the lack of a foul called, the Courage was able to capitalize on the corner kick opportunity when a well-placed feed bounced off the head of Spirit player Taylor Aylmer and into the net for a go-ahead own goal. On the play, Aubrey Kingsbury injured her head after colliding with the left post but was able to finish the match.
With the exception of two shot attempts by Jordan Baggett and Ashley Hatch in the 83rd minute, Washington wasn’t able to put together a significant scoring attack through the final 30 minutes of the match, evidenced in part by the side being outshot by the Courage 19-9. Even through 12 minutes of stoppage time, North Carolina was able to control possession to close out a win and end the Spirit’s undefeated streak at 20 matches.
Washington will host Angel City FC on Sunday, May 15 at 5:00 p.m. EST at Audi Field in the team’s second match of the 2022 regular season. Following the match, the Spirit will head out west for a two-game road trip against Portland Thorns FC and OL Reign.
-NWSL Match Report-
Match: North Carolina Courage vs. Washington Spirit
Date: May 7, 2022
Venue: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
Weather: Cloudy, low-70s
NCC – Kerolin – 10’
WAS – Ashley Hatch – 35’
NCC – Taylor Aylmer (Own Goal) – 70’
NCC: 99- Katelyn Rowland; 4- Carson Pickett; 6- Abby Erceg; 3- Kaleigh Kurtz; 11- Merritt Mathias; 7- Malia Berkely; 8- Denise O’Sullivan’ 16- Emily Gray (25- Meredith Speck 85’); 9- Kerolin (2- Taylor Smith 73’); 10- Debinha; 12- Diana Ordoñez (15- Jaelene Daniels 85’)
Unused Substitutes: 29- Rylee Baisden; 33- Jorian Baucom; 14- Kate Bowen; 1- Casey Murphy; 5- Brianna Pinto; 13- Ryan Williams
WAS: 1- Aubrey Kingsbury; 16- Julia Roddar (30- Camryn Biegalski 46’); 3- Sam Staab; 6- Emily Sonnett; 5- Kelley O’Hara (Morgan Goff 74’); 19- Dorian Bailey; 7- Taylor Aylmer (11- Jordan Baggett 80’, 27- Audrey Harding 90’ + 6’); 21- Anna Heilferty (13- Bayley Feist 74’); 10- Ashley Sanchez; 2- Trinity Rodman; 33- Ashley Hatch
Unused Substitutes: 17- Tinaya Alexander; 22- Amber Brooks; 18- Devon Kerr; 4- Karina Rodriguez
Stats Summary: NCC / WAS
Shots: 19 / 9
Shots On Goal: 6 / 4
Saves: 3 / 5
Shots Blocked: 3 / 2
Fouls: 5 / 11
Offside: 5 / 6
NCC – Merritt Mathias – 68’ – Yellow Card
WAS – Bench – 70’ – Yellow Card