In an 2016 NWSL Championship rematch, the previously Western New York Flash, now the North Carolina Courage took on the Washington Spirit. The Courage went to Washington to face the Spirit at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyd, Maryland. Kickoff was at 3:00 pm.
In their inaugural match of their inaugural season, the North Carolina Courage came in ready to play. It was announced early in 2017 that the Western New York Flash was rebranding and relocating in the offseason. The Western New York Flash gave up their home in Elma, New York and headed south to North Carolina. The rebranding came as a surprise to fans as the 2016 NWSL Championship winners had a passionate fanbase located in New York.
While the team did have a fresh start, their head coach did not. Coach of the Flash and now the courage, Paul Riley, is paying for his actions of last year's semifinal game against the Portland Thorns. In the league's press release they said that Riley's conduct was, “characterized as physical contact with Game Officials, separate from referee assault, and is a violation of Section 11.3.6, "Major Game Misconduct" of the League Operations Manual."
First half action
The first half got off to a busy start when the first corner was taken by Washington Spirit just 3 minutes in and then another corner a minute later. The Spirit had two free kicks (8', 12') and three corners (3', 4', 13') but could not strike before the North Carolina Courage could in the 18th minute.
In the 18th minute midfielder Makenzy Doniak sent in a cross received by fellow midfielder McCall Zerbroni. Zerbroni brought the ball down with her right foot and took the shot with her left. The ball went past Labbe, who was off her line, and into the bottom right corner. Zerbroni successfully slotted the first ever goal for the North Carolina Courage.
Four minutes later Joanna Lohman came out of the match due to injury. Coming on for her was Line Sigvardsen-Jensen.
More first half action came in the 28th minute when Kristie Mewis, Washington Spirit, who was playing against her sister, Sam Mewis, received a yellow card for a bad foul.
Washington made its second substitution of the match in the 38th minute. Cheyna Williams came off due to an injury suffered during the 34th minute. Coming on for Williams was Francisca Ordega.
The first half ended with the Courage on top of the Spirit 1-0 after four minutes of added time to the end of the first 45 minutes.
Slow second half
Neither teams made changes for the start of the second half, and they returned to play another 45. While not able to add to the score, North Carolina had plenty of chances in the second half. The 2016 NWSL MVP, Lynn Williams, fired a close-range shot at Labbe in the 50th minute. in the 51st minute, alone, there were four shots on goal by the North Carolina Courage. Williams had a shot off a corner that went wide to the right. Jess McDonald hit the crossbar off a header that came in as a cross from Williams. The Sam Mewis had a right-footed shot on goal that was blocked. Finally, to end the minute of chaos, Williams took another right-footed shot from the middle of the box that ended being too high. Shots continued to come in from the Courage, but Labbe continued to make saves.
Both teams made substitutions in the second half. Washington made its third when Havana Solaun came on for Arielle Ship in the 66th minute. The Courage’s first two substitutions came in 66th and 67th Elizabeth Eddy came on for Makenzy Doniak, and Taylor Smith came on for Sam Witteman. Unfortunately, Eddy had to come off after just 12 minutes of play because of injury, Kristen Hamilton replaced her.
The goal scorer of the afternoon, Zerboni, was called for a foul in the 70th minute, receiving a yellow card. On the opposing side, Shelina Zardosky was also given a yellow card. The Canadian defender committed a foul in the 82’ and received the Spirit’s second yellow of the game.
The anticipated Championship rematch ended 1-0 Courage gaining the three points. Although only one found the back of the net, the Courage had 35 shots 23 of which were on goal. Sabrina D’Angelo did not have to make any saves, with the Spirit only have four out of seven shots go on goal. Washington had more passes and a higher percentage of possession, neither were enough to put them on the board.
With the loss of forward Crystal Dunn, the Spirit will look to Cheyna Williams, Ordega, and Katherine Stengel to find the back of the net this season. Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, who also went overseas, will be joining their NWSL club teams sometime in June, but that is not the case for Dunn and the Spirit, Dunn announced her move overseas to the Chelsea Ladies that she would not resume to NWSL play this 2017 season. This could be a costly loss moving forward for Gabarra and his team.