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Women’s International Champions Cup: NC Courage win thrilling 2-1 battle with Manchester City

The Courage will play fellow winners Lyon on Sunday night

North Carolina Courage v Manchester City - 2019 Women’s International Champions Cup Photo by Streeter Lecka/International Champions Cup/Getty Images

The North Carolina Courage stunned Manchester City W.F.C. when they faced off in the second match of the semi-finals at the 2019 International Champions Cup Women’s Tournament in Cary, NC on Thursday night. The reigning ICC Champs were frustrated for the first 75 minutes of the match as they were given ample opportunities to score, but it was City with the lead as the clock ticked away. Then the weather came, the game chanced, and the Courage would finally equalize on their ninth corner of the second half. Then, in stoppage time, Jess McDonald blew past the Manchester defense and finished clinically against Man City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck.

The win sees the Courage through to the first place match where they will face Olympique Lyonnais. Manchester will face off in the opening, third place match against Atletico Madrid.

The Courage came out strong in the opening, culminating in a shot on target from Debinha in the 7th minute. Her shot from just inside the top of the box forced City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck to make a save diving to her left. Courage netminder Katelyn Rowland would be forced to make a low save of her own just one minute later.

Debinha once again found herself with the ball in front of goal in the 17th minute. Jaelene Hinkle sent the ball ahead to forward Lynn Williams who beat her defender to the end line and sent a lovely low cross to the top of the six-yard box. Unfortunately, Debinha hit the ball at the same moment as the defender and the chance was neutralized.

Man City nearly got the opening goal of the match in the 20th minute. A long searching ball from City confused Rowland, and she came out to the top of the box before realizing that she wouldn’t be able to get to the ball. She tried to wait, but Janine Beckie chipped the ball over her. Rowland got the slightest touch on the ball and it rolled out just beyond the post. On the ensuing corner kick, the ball was deflected high into the air and Rowland once again misjudged the ball. She got the slightest punch on the ball, and her defense was able to cover up the mistake.

It looked like Crystal Dunn had scored in the 25th minute, when she got in behind her defender and easily slotted the ball past Roebuck. The head ref instead decided that Dunn had fouled her defender and waved the goal off. It looked like a pretty weak call at the time and the crowd certainly let the ref know that.

The first goal of the match would eventually come in the 41st minute. A slip ball was played through to Manchester forward Georgia Stanway. Courage centerback Abby Erceg went to ground trying to tackle the ball away, but she got none of the ball and Stanway sent the ball into the right side of the goal past Rowland. That one goal lead would be sustained until the end of the half despite the best efforts of Dunn and Debinha, both of whom had shots blocked in the closing minutes of the half.

The Courage opened the second half with a substitution. Forward Jess McDonald came in for Kristen Hamilton. The personnel change didn’t have an impact on the formation or gameplan, but it did add some height to the front line.

Through the first 25 minutes of the second half, the Courage ere able to earn plenty of corners and close opportunities, but there was consistently a lack of connection on those set piece opportunities. Hinkle continued to put way too much power behind her services when the ball popped out to her after the service. The corner services themselves were plenty good, but there didn’t seem to be any North Carolina players in position to capitalize. The hosts attempted seven corners in the first 27 minutes of the second half.

The game was abruptly stopped in the 75th minute due to lightning in the area. The delay lasted for over an hour before play finally resumed.

The Courage continued to keep their foot on the gas out of the weather delay. They subbed on McKenzie Meehan, Meredith Speck, and Julia Spetsmark, and the changes paid dividends quickly. The Courage earned their ninth corner kick of the match in the 85th minute, and after the ball bounced around in the box for a while, Meehan sent a rocket into the top of the net. It was her first goal just 10 minutes into her first appearance for the Courage after being traded from Sky Blue FC earlier in the season.

The game seemed to be heading toward a penalty kick finish until Jaelene Hinkle sent a long ball up the pitch to Jess McDonald. The striker was able to split two defenders, outrun them both, and finish a low shot against the keeper for the go ahead goal. The fans who remained and the Courage bench erupted when her shot rippled the back of the net, and while City did have a small chance in the dying seconds, it was the Courage players who were celebrating when the final whistle blew.

Now, the Courage will face off for the second time against Lyon in the match to see which club is the best in the world.