North Carolina Courage defeat Washington Spirit, lift trophy in injury filled final – 21Sports News

In a game that was overshadowed by injuries on both sides of the ball, the North Carolina Courage are 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Champions after defeating the Washington Spirit, 2-1 at WakeMed Soccer Plex in Cary, North Carolina. Kerolin scored for the North Carolina Courage, who also benefitted from a Taylor Aylmer own goal, while Ashley Hatch scored for the Spirit.

The lasting image from this match will not be any of the three goals which decided it, but rather Jordan Bagget being carted off the field in injury time after a collision with Debinha led to her collapse, Bagget’s Spirit teammates themselves running the ahead of the medical team to get her assistance.

That injury followed both the Courage’s Kerolin and Spirit keeper Aubrey Kingsbury being forced off the field in rapid succession around the hour mark. A tough tackle in the box from Spirit defender Sam Staab on Kerolin led to a no call in the box. As Kerolin exited the match, the Courage found the game winner off the ensuing corner kick on an own goal from the Spirit. On the play Kingsbury crashed into the post and was, herself, forced to exit the match as a result.

The ragged second half followed a high energy opening 45 minutes. The Courage immediately set the tempo in the scoring early as the Brazilian duo for Debinha and Kerolin connected for the opening goal in the 11th minute. Debinha carried the ball up the flank, beating Kelley O’Hara, before threading a ball through to Kerolin. 

The Courage were dominant for half an hour before a controversial no call on a handball in the box led to the Spirit equalized in the 35th minute as Trinity Rodman linked up with Hatch for an equalizer. That meant that the two sides entered halftime even, despite the Courage outshooting the Spirit 15 to 5, though the teams were level with shots on goal, each with four attempts on target.

Then the injuries began. The second half was plagued by fatigue, as the two teams battled for the title on short rest with both sides coming off Wednesday semifinals. The way the match ended, with Bagget’s injury, and her teammates actions to hasten medical attention, will be the indelible image of the game, but minutes later the final whistle blew and the Courage lifted the trophy locking in their 2-1 lead as the final score, making them the 2022 Challenge Cup champions for the first time in club history.

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