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The North Carolina Courage completed their undefeated run through pre-season competition with a 2-1 victory over the Washington Spirit to win the NWSL Challenge Cup on Saturday in Cary, N.C.
In what was a back-and-forth match, with both sides missing their share of scoring opportunities, it was the Courage who benefitted from a Spirit own goal in the 70th minute to take the lead and eventually emerge victorious.
Just a minute after Washington's Ashley Hatch missed a chance to open the scoring, Courage forward Kerolin Nicoli proceeded to capitalize with a goal of her own after cutting inside and firing a low shot past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury in the 10th minute.
North Carolina kept the pressure coming with opportunities from Emily Gray and Debinha less than 10 minutes later, but the first shot was stopped by Kingsbury and the latter hit the inside post as they were unable to build on the lead.
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Following a couple of missed chances from star forward Trinity Rodman, Hatch was able to score the equalizer in the 35th minute off a perfectly placed pass from Rodman into the box.
Both sides continued exchanging scoring chances as North Carolina's Carson Pickett missed on a shot from distance and Washington's Ashley Sanchez missed on an opportunity of her own early in the second half.
In the 70th minute, Pickett put a corner kick in play in front of the Spirit's net that was ultimately put into the net by Washington defender Taylor Aylmer, giving North Carolina a 2-1 lead.
Unable to put anything on the board to tie the game up, the own goal proved to be too costly a mistake for Washington to recover from.
The Challenge Cup was initially brought to life in 2020, allowing the NWSL to become the first U.S. professional sports league to return to action that year. It has since continued on as a pre-season tournament for the league, drawing rave reviews and viewership.
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