The North Carolina Courage celebrates Debinha’s goal. (Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports)
HERRIMAN, Utah – While three goals in the final 15 minutes and stoppage time were undoubtedly the highlights of the opening match of the NWSL Challenge Cup, a moment of unity between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns as they knelt during the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter was certainly one to remember.
A joint statement released by the two teams following the anthem read, “We took a knee today to protest injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against black people and people of color in America.”
As the first professional sports league in the United States that returned to play since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the Courage outlasted Portland, 2-1, on an injury-time goal by Lynn Williams.
After ending the first half deadlocked at 0-0, the Courage struck first in the 75th minute when Hailie Mace threated a right-wng pass to Debinha, who finished into the lower corner of the net.
Mace, who made her National Women’s Soccer League debut, came in for Ally Watt who was injured in the 68th minute and stretchered off of the field. The assist was one of Mace’s first touches.
Portland answered with an unassisted goal scored in the 80th minute by Simone Charley. A shot by Lindsey Horan that rebounded off of the crossbar started the scoring as the rebound caught Charley in stride.
Just when it seemed the match was going to end in a tie, Sam Mewis sent a right-wing cross to Williams for a header to score the game-winner in the fourth minute of added time.
In a postgame interview, Williams joked about her connection with Mewis being so strong because the two are roommates and spent weeks of preseason only being able to train with each other.
North Carolina will face the Washington Spirit on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET in another preliminary round match.