The North Carolina Courage successfully defended their 2022 Challenge Cup title Saturday, taking home the 2023 crown with a 2-0 win over Racing Louisville. With the victory, the club has seven NWSL titles in seven years – two Challenge Cups, three Shields, and two league championships.
After knocking on the door throughout the Challenge Cup, Kerolin got the Courage on the board early and they never looked back. Manaka Matuskubo got the team’s second in the 54th minute, making the 19-year-old the youngest player to score in any NWSL title game and earning her MVP honors.
“It’s a world-class finish,” Courage coach Sean Nahas said of Matuskubo’s strike. “I don’t think anyone else would have thought about hitting that first time out of the air. I think it shows the level of IQ she has. … I’m thrilled for her.
“She was shocked that she won the MVP. But for a 19-year-old to come into this environment and have an impact I think says a lot about her.”
In addition to Matuskubo, who deserves to be among the Best XI for the Challenge Cup semifinals and championship match? Just Women’s Sports makes our picks from the North Carolina Courage, Racing Louisville, OL Reign and Kansas City Current.
While the goal scorers were key for the Courage, the USWNT goalkeeper recorded two clean sheets in the semifinals and the final, saving three shots total, to help ensure consecutive Challenge Cup titles for her team.
Williams played a key role on the Courage back line, which allowed just three shots on target throughout the Challenge Cup semifinal and final. In the championship match, she won three of her tackles and recorded two interceptions.
Against Kansas City in Wednesday’s 1-0 semifinal win, Berkely recorded three tackles and one interception, while recording a game-high 97.7% completion rate on her passes, finishing on 86 of 88 attempts. Against Louisville, she also recorded a shot on target.
McClernon was all over the field defensively for OL Reign in their semifinal loss to Racing Louisville, recording a game-high six tackles and three interceptions. She also held a 72.4% completion rate on 58 attempted passes, and her 42 completions were second only to teammate Sofia Huerta.
Pinto scored the game-winner in North Carolina’s semifinal matchup against Kansas City in stoppage time to send the team to the Challenge Cup final. While she had just 11 touches, she made the most of them, completing five of six total passes.
The foundation of North Carolina’s defensive midfield, O’Sullivan winning a game-high seven tackles in the championship match. Against Kansas City in the semifinal, she had an astounding 90.8% completion rate on her passes, and she had two tackles and one block while also recording a shot.
Before leaving for the World Cup with the USWNT, DeMelo was one of Louisville’s best Challenge Cup players. And she picked up where she left off upon her return. Against OL Reign, she had three shots – including one on target – while also recording two tackles and two blocks. Her 0.3 xG was the best for Louisville in that game.
North Carolina’s 19-year-old midfielder made history in the NWSL Challenge Cup final, earning her a spot on the tournament’s Best XI. She had two shots – both of which were on target – in the final, converting on the one.
The Brazilian star placed among the league’s top shot-takers throughout the Challenge Cup but had not converted until Saturday, when she scored the game-winner against Louisville. She finished the match with five shots, three of them on target. She also played well in the semifinal, recording two shots, one tackle and a team-high four blocks.
The 20-year-old rookie out of Duke had a great semifinal game for the Current, recording a team-high two shots and three tackles. Her 0.6 xG led the Current, and she also had a 72.2% completion rate on her passes.
Davis helped Racing Louisville to their first-ever NWSL championship game with a goal against OL Reign in the semifinal. She also had a tackle and a block in that game while completing 78.6% of her passes.