When the final whistle was blown in the International Champions Cup women’s final between the North Carolina Courage and Olympique Lyonaiss on Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium, the stat sheet was heavily in favor of the French team.
Lyon had more than double the Courage’s shots, corners and passes, and they had 70.6-percent of possession.
And yet, when the final whistle blew, North Carolina was the one celebrating. In what Courage coach Paul Riley called “a good, gutsy American performance,” his team hung on by the skin of their teeth to win, 1-0, and become the first International Champions Cup women’s champions.
“Once we got the lead, I think it settled us in a little bit,” Riley said. “We turned the ball over a little bit more than we normally do tonight under pressure, and I think just under the whole thing of playing in a final. It felt like an FA Cup Final even before the game. But yeah, hats off to – we had a young team out there tonight, and they did really well.”
North Carolina got its only goal by capitalizing off a horrible turnover by Lyon in the 10th minute. Midfielder Saki Kumagai sent a pass toward defender Kadeisha Buchanan, but Buchanan didn’t go for the ball. Courage forward Lynn Williams jumped on the opportunity, taking control and sending a cross to Heather O’Reilly, who fired it on net. It was slowed down momentarily by Lyon goalkeeper Lisa Weiss, but the ball trickled over the line.
From then on, it seemed like Lyon would draw even at any moment. Things felt especially grim for the Courage in the 31st minute, when midfielder Yuri Kawamura went down with a left knee injury. She sat out almost all of last season with a torn ACL and meniscus in the same knee.
Riley mentioned after the match that Kawamura said the injury felt similar to last year’s. Of course, there was still a match to play. Cari Roccaro subbed in for Kawamura, and North Carolina tried to rally together.
“It is a difficult thing to get them going again,” Riley said. “I was just hoping we could survive halftime. We nearly gave up a goal right before (halftime). … We just could not get going. We basically survived and tried to slide into halftime.”
And then the second half came, and Lyon seemed to step it up another notch. They had all nine of their corners in the second frame, 71.9-percent of possession and 15 of their 23 shots.
Still, Lyon couldn’t get a ball past Courage goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo.
Even as time was close to expiring, Lyon had a corner kick that ended up in the gloves of D’Angelo once again.
As fluky as O’Reilly’s goal may have been, it was all North Carolina needed.
“I was lucky that it crossed the line, but I’ll take it,” O’Rreilly said. “And I agree, I didn’t think it would hold a 1-0 game, just because, Lyon, I mean, they’re world class. They have seven or eight players that are probably the best in the world at their position.
“… We’ll go down in the history books as winning the first ever. So there’s something to be proud of for that.”