The North Carolina Courage top Olympique Lyonnais Women to win the inaugural ICC Women's Tournament
The North Carolina Courage are crowned the champions of the first ICC Women's Tournament. | Photo: Jonathan Willey

The North Carolina Courage top Olympique Lyonnais Women to win the inaugural ICC Women's Tournament

The Courage earned a 1-0 victory courtesy of Heather O'Reilly's first goal and a stout defensive effort.

aaron_bellamy
Aaron Bellamy

They didn't win the possession battle and they didn't take the most shots, but the North Carolina Courage topped Olympique Lyonnais Women one to nil in the only category that mattered: the number of shots that went into the goal. The Courage, missing six players to international duty at the Tournament of Nations, beat the reigning UEFA Women's Champions League winners 1-0 in their final match of the ICC Women's Tournament final as they became the first champions of the competition. The Courage relied on their fitness and solid defensive form to take and hold the lead despite an offensive onslaught from Lyon over the last sixty minutes of the match.

The only goal of the match came in the 11th minute after a significant defensive mistake from Lyon. Midfielder Saki Kumagai attempted to play the ball back to defender Kadeisha Buchanan, but the ball was errant and Buchanan apparently didn't realize the pass was to her. Courage forward Lynn Williams jumped on the mistake and beat Buchanan to the ball. Her first touch was a cross to the middle of the box where midfielder Heather O'Reilly had a step on her defender. She managed to get good power on the shot, but it was right at the keeper. It skipped underneath goalkeeper Lisa Weiß and rolled slowly into the goal. It wasn't the best-executed shot of the night, but it was the only one that registered on the scoreboard.

Heather O'Reilly is smothered by congratulatory teammates after her 11th-minute goal. | Photo: Jonathan Willey
Heather O'Reilly is smothered by congratulatory teammates after her 11th-minute goal. | Photo: Jonathan Willey

The game turned to Lyon's favor in the 28th minute when Courage midfielder/defender Yuri Kawamura went down with an apparent knee injury. Fellow Japanese national, Kumagai, went over to Kawamura while she was laying on the ground crying to translate for her. According to Courage head coach Paul Riley, Kawamura told Kumagai that it was the same feeling as last season when she tore her ACL against Chicago. The Courage were forced to make a sub after Kawamura was stretchered off the field, with Cari Roccaro taking her spot. 

The Courage came out in an unusual 1-4-1-4 formation for this match, with Williams as the lone striker and Kawamura as the lone holding midfielder. According to Riley, the goal of this formation was to better defend the wide areas of the field and provide extra support to rookie defender Ryan Williams, who would be starting her first career game matched up against French forward Eugenie Le Sommer, one of the most talented strikers in the world. With Roccaro newly entered into the match, Lyon pressed their advantage and earned a number of excellent scoring opportunities in the last 15 minutes of the second half. The Courage backed their way into the halftime locker room, and Lyon certainly felt that a goal was imminent.

In the second half, the Courage were more defensively disciplined, but they were pinned back in their own half for almost the entire 45 minutes. Lyon registered shot after shot after shot, but they were denied at each turn by goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo, the bodies of Courage defenders, and, on more than one occasion, the woodwork. Lyon had one particularly dangerous scoring opportunity around ten minutes into the second half. D'Angelo, playing in her first game since spraining her ankle on a kick save in the game against Chicago, came way out to try to catch a high cross, but she wasn't the first one to reach the ball. It bounced high into the air, and Lyon sent the ball toward the goal. Defender Kaileigh Kurtz was covering the goal, but her services weren't needed as the ball bounced off the post and was cleared away.

Kaleigh Kurtz and Lynn Williams can only watch as a shot from Lyon goes off the post. | Photo: Jonathan Willey
Kaleigh Kurtz and Lynn Williams can only watch as a shot from Lyon goes off the post. | Photo: Jonathan Willey

OL kept firing away at the Courage goal until the 90th minute when Williams managed to break free and streak down the field. Her shot went off the post, but it felt like the near-miss deflated Lyon, and the final whistle would blow four minutes later. North Carolina centerback Abby Erceg was named the player of the tournament following the match for her stout defensive performance in both games. D'Angelo had six saves in the final. 

At this moment, the fate of the ICC Women's Tournament in 2019 is up in the air. When asked about whether his team would be interested in participating in the tournament next year, manager Reynald Pedros said that he would like to come back for the tournament, but that squeezing it into the schedule around the 2019 Women's World Cup would be nearly impossible. Whether or not the tournament is played again next year, the Courage will forever be in the history books as the champions of the very first tournament.

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