NWSL Challenge Cup: Spirit fall to Courage in thrilling day two opener
On day two of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup the Spirit fell to the North Carolina Courage 3-2 in an exciting eastern conference opener.
The Spirit came out flying in the 5th minute as Japanese International Kumi Yokoyama slotted the ball inside of the far post off of a pass from Dorian Bailey to put the Spirit up 1-0.
The Courage responded with a goal in the 9th minute off of a pass from Jess McDonald to Kristen Hamilton who was left unmarked to shoot the ball into the corner.
Rookie Anna Heilferty had a great opportunity on goal in the 19th minute but her shot veered just wide of the far post. In her first NWSL match, Heilferty was creative on the ball with multiple shots on goal and threatening crosses.
The Courage then began to take the reins as they settled into the match. McDonald scored in the 28th minute to give her team a 2-1 lead after a string of North Carolina shots.
North Carolina aimed to increase their lead in the 35th minute but Brazilian superstar Debinha's free kick was blocked by Spirit forward Ashley Sanchez.
Courage defender Merritt Mathias made it 3-1 in the 51st minute, chipping the ball over Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Mathias made her first start since suffering an ACL tear in September of 2019.
18 year old rookie Trinity Rodman scored in the 61st minute for the Spirit, passing the ball past Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland to make it 2-3. Rodman was drafted second in the 2021 NWSL draft out of Washington State University. Due to the pandemic, she was unable to compete collegiately.
Down by one goal, the Spirit were looking for an equalizer as they headed into seven minutes of stoppage time. A curling shot from Sanchez in the 93rd minute was promising but veered wide. Despite late gate efforts, the Spirit were unable to find the equalizing goal.
Without Emily Sonnett, Andi Sullivan, and Kelley O’Hara who are currently with the USWNT on international duty, the team got a good look at what the makeup of the squad will be during the Olympics this summer. Sonnett and O’Hara were acquired by the Spirit at the end of 2020.
Washington was also without midfielder Bayley Feist. Prior to the match the Spirit announced that Feist has suffered an ACL tear and will be out of commission 'indefinitely'. Feist scored two goals last year, one in the Challenge Cup and one in the Fall Series.
The Spirit will return to play on Thursday, April 15th against expansion side Racing Louisville FC at Audi Field at 7PM EST. The game will be available through Paramount+, the rebranded CBS All Access.