Preview: Spirit travels to North Carolina after a week off, faces Courage in Challenge Cup bout

Washington Spirit  |   July 21, 2023
Preview: Spirit travels to North Carolina after a week off, faces Courage in Challenge Cup bout Featured Image

Cary, N.C. (07/21/2023) – The Washington Spirit will face the North Carolina Courage in both sides’ fourth 2023 UKG NWSL Challenge Cup match of 2023. The match kicks off at 7 p.m. EDT at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC and will broadcast nationally on Paramount+ for fans across the United States. International viewers can stream the match on


The Spirit

Coming off a much-deserved weeklong break, the Spirit will play its first match in two weeks. Last time out – a July 8 match versus San Diego Wave FC – resulted in only one point for the Spirit, as the team drew, 2-2.


Leading in the 90th minute, the Spirit surrendered an equalizing goal to the Wave only seconds before stoppage time. Ashley Hatch scored on a penalty kick in the 23rd minute, extending the club’s record of goals scored in eight consecutive regular season road matches. Hatch is now tied with Kerolin for the second-most goals (8) in the NWSL this regular season and became the first player in league history to score four road penalty kicks in a season. Her penalty kick makes her seven for seven from the spot during her Spirit career, breaking a club record for the most consecutive successful penalty kicks.


The Spirit has now scored multiple goals in four of its last six matches in all competitions. Prior to its current stretch, the Spirit had four multi-goal matches in its previous 15 games in all competitions dating back to last season.


Nicole Barnhart, filling in for a World Cup-bound Aubrey Kingsbury, also came up huge for the Sprit, tying her career-best seven second half saves, negating a number of San Diego goal attempts.


The Spirit last faced the Courage in its most recent Challenge Cup match on June 14 at Audi Field, which ended in similar fashion to the Spirit’s most recent game versus San Diego. The Courage scored a goal in the second minute of second half stoppage time which lifted the visiting side over the Spirit.


That fateful goal made the difference between a three-way tie for most points in the East Division of the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup and sole possession of third place for the Spirit. The Spirit sits at 1-2-0 (3 points) in the standings but remains only two points behind the leading Courage (5 points).


The Spirit has not had a great history against North Carolina or in road Challenge Cup matches. The Courage is the only East Division team that the Spirit has never beaten (0-3-2) in the Challenge Cup since the inception of the tournament. Additionally, the Spirit has only won two road matches in Challenge Cup history.


Following Saturday’s match, the Spirit returns to Audi Field to host NJ/NY Gotham FC in another Challenge Cup match. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. EDT on Friday, July 28.


The Opposition

The league’s top team, the Courage is coming off its first loss in five matches (all competitions) following a 1-2 defeat to Angel City FC. In the match, the Courage fought off 13 first half shots from Angel City. The defeat marked the first time the Courage has lost when scoring first. Frankie Tagilaferri assisted on the goal and has now notched two assists in her last four matches in all competitions including one in the Courage’s most recent match. Those are the only two goal contributions of Tagliaferri’s NWSL career.


The red-hot Courage hadn’t conceded multiple goals in over two months preceding this match (since May 6) and its streak of shutout minutes ended at 460, the fourth-longest in NWSL history.


Not only is the Courage sitting at the top of the NWSL table, but the team also occupies the top position in the East Division of the 2023 UKG NWSL Challenge Cup. Undefeated, and with a 1-0-2 record (5 points), the Courage has the fewest number of points of any Challenge Cup division leader. The team’s sole Challenge Cup victory this season came against the Spirit.


The Courage is unbeaten all-time at home in Challenge Cup play (W4, D3) with its lone home game in 2023 being a 1-1 draw with Gotham FC. North Carolina is joined by OL Reign as the only teams without a home loss in the Challenge Cup.


Notably, the Courage has taken the regular season by storm, notching a string of four league wins in a row prior to its most recent loss. The team leads the league in passing accuracy (81.5), possession (59.31) and successful passes (6,151). The Courage has logged over 1,000 more successful passes than the next closest team — Portland (5,062). Ironically, the Spirit ranks last in two of these three statistics — passing accuracy (70.05) and passes successful (3468).


Additionally, defender Kaleigh Kurtz, forward Kerolin and goalkeeper Casey Murphy all earned Best XI honors for the month of June. Kurtz is the only one of the three remaining with the Courage during the World Cup window.


Next up, the North Carolina Courage hosts the Orlando Pride in another Challenge Cup match on Saturday, July 29 at 7 p.m.



  • The Spirit has a 5-13-4 record against the North Carolina Courage. The Spirit has a 2-6-2 record on the road against the Courage. The Spirit’s road victory earlier this season was the side’s first road victory against the Courage since 2021.
  • Since the beginning of last season, the Courage and Spirit have met seven times with each team scoring at least once in all seven games. The last NWSL fixture to have eight straight matches with each team scoring a goal was Reign FC against the Western New York Flash from May 2014 to July 2016 (all competitions).
  • Ashley Hatch scored on a penalty in Washington’s road draw with San Diego as Hatch has now scored 15 road goals in all competitions since the beginning of last season. That is the most road goals by any NWSL player in that time with only Sophia Smith (14) also having at least 12.
  • The Washington Spirit has a +1.9 expected goal differential in this season’s Challenge Cup, meaning the side has scored nearly two more goals than the team’s expected total of 3.1. This ranks second only to the Kansas City Current. This contrasts the Courage’s -2.2 expected goals differential, second worst in the league.
  • Former Spirit players meet again:
    • North Carolina defender Estelle Johnson meets the Washington Spirit again after playing with the side from 2015 to 2018.
  • Former college teammates meet again:
    • First-year Spirit midfielder Paige Metayer played with first-year Courage defender Sydney Collins at the University of California from 2018 to 2021.
    • Spirit defender Dorian Bailey played at the University of North Carolina with Courage midfielder Brianna Pinto in 2018.
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