NWSL Challenge Cup: North Carolina Courage defeats Washington Spirit to lift trophy in injury-filled final

In a game that has been overshadowed by injuries on both sides of the ball, the North Carolina Courage are champions of the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup after defeating the Washington Spirit, 2-1 at WakeMed Soccer Plex in Cary, North Carolina, Saturday. Kerolin scored for the Courage, which also benefited from an own goal from Taylor Aylmer. Ashley Hatch scored for the Spirit.

The lasting image of this match will not be one of the three goals that decided it, but rather Jordan Bagget’s dismissal from the pitch in added time after a collision with Debinha.

The injury followed Courage’s Kerolin and Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury being forced off the pitch in quick succession around the hour mark. A tough tackle in the box from Spirit defender Sam Staab on Kerolin led to a non-call in the box. As Kerolin left the game, Courage found the match winner on the corner kick which followed on an own goal from the Spirit. On the play, Kingsbury crashed into the post and was briefly treated, but remained in the game.

The tattered second half followed a high-energy 45-minute opener. Courage immediately set the pace in scoring as the Brazilian duo of Debinha and Kerolin – who were named Challenge Cup Final MVPs – connected for the opening goal in the 11th minute. Debinha carried the ball down the flank, beating Kelley O’Hara, before passing a ball to Kerolin.

Courage dominated for half an hour before a controversial call on a potential handball in the box led to Spirit’s 35th-minute equalizer as Trinity Rodman linked up with Hatch. This meant both teams entered at half time even, despite Courage edging Spirit 15-5.

Then the injuries started. The second half was plagued by fatigue, as both teams battled for the title after a short rest following Wednesday’s semi-finals. The way the game ended, with Bagget injured and her teammates’ actions to expedite medical attention, will be the indelible image of the game, but minutes later the final whistle sounded and the Courage lifted the trophy, making them the 2022 Challenge Cup champions for the first time in club history.

Player Updates

Spirit head coach Kris Ward and the team were on a 20-match unbeaten streak heading into the Challenge Cup final. But heading into the regular season, a few Spirit players will need ongoing medical evaluation after several difficult on-field moments throughout the game, particularly Bagget’s ambulance ride. Ward said after the match that there were no further updates at this time.

“Everyone knows they’re gone. Just a few minutes ago, it was just before the end of the game. We’re going to the hospital and we’re going to have her checked. But that’s all I really know at the moment, unfortunately,” he said.

The league has concussion protocols in place, including additional substitutions, although Ward confirmed his goaltender will be evaluated further.

“We go through and do a concussion check with our own medical staff. I wasn’t sure at first if they were going to do another one, in the end they didn’t. But our coaches are really thorough about it. So we’re going to go get her checked out now,” added Ward.

“But by the way, listening to it, and looking like I’m fine and responding to the initial test. We’re going to go and we’re going to take a look now just to see if there’s any delayed onset of symptoms or whatever. But yeah, I wasn’t sure at first but again our coaches are doing a great job so hopefully she’s okay.”

For Couragem head coach Sean Nahas said he spoke with Kerolin after she was substituted with an ankle injury and wanted to stay in the game.

“I think there’s just a knock in the way she fell and the angle of it, but she wanted to go in. When we put her back up, D [O’Sullivan]deserved [Mathias] and Deb [Debinha] said she couldn’t go, so we just made the change,” Nahas said. “She wasn’t planning on going out, we weren’t planning on taking her with anyone. another. But, we solidified in a different way. So she’ll be fine, I hope.”

Courage defender Carson Pickett won his first NWSL title after being drafted in 2016. The fullback created three chances during the game and recorded two shots, and credited the team with closing the game in light so many wounds.

“I think it’s professional sport. No matter what happens, we’re trained to keep our heads in the game and not worry about outside things, unfortunately,” Pickett said.

“Obviously send good vibes to the Washington player and hope she recovers. Injuries happen, it just happens in professional sports, and especially football. So I think he was important with so little time left in the game to try to keep our composure, stick together and finish the game.”

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