Courage hold off Current to clinch Challenge Cup final berth

In her first NWSL start, Diana Ordoñez (left) scored her first professional goal. (Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports)

The North Carolina Courage moved on to their first NWSL Challenge Cup final after defeating the Kansas City Current 2-1 on Wednesday. They will play the Washington Spirit, who advanced in a penalty shootout following a controversial end to their match against OL Reign.

The Courage struck first against the current on a penalty kick by Debinha in the 19th minute. Diana Ordoñez added to the lead with 10 minutes to go in the half, making it 2-0 for the away team.

It was Ordoñez’s first NWSL goal in her first professional start after being drafted in the first round of the 2022 draft out of Virginia. She was assisted by Kerolin, who signed with the club prior to the season after spending two seasons with Madrid.

“It’s awesome, I was very, very excited,” Ordoñez said. “From what I’ve been starting to learn about [Kerolin’s] game…I feel like I never know whether she’s going to cross or going to shoot. But my thought process is always like ‘I need to be on the other end of this in case it does come across the goal,’ and it worked out. Came right to me.”

The Current made a charge in the second half, with forward Kristen Hamilton adding one for the home team with 10 minutes remaining in the match. But they could not complete the comeback.

“This one hurts for sure,” Current captain Desiree Scott said. “I think when you dig that big of a hole it’s hard to come out of it. But give full credit to our squad for that do-or-die attitude.”

But Hamilton added that she thought that the game would go a long way in helping the Current, who made the Challenge Cup knockout stages in just their second season as a club. While there is a mix of youth and veteran presence on the team, experience is a key factor in higher-level games.

“It meant a lot for us to have that first meaningful game for the club,” Hamilton said. “But it’s good to have those types of games on your belt, to kind of feel the atmosphere or feel what it’s about.

“What it takes to play games like this, It’s not easy to go in and start with the energy and anticipation around it. It’s a different type of game. You learn from every game you play in an environment like this.”

The Courage also continue to learn more about themselves as they go, returning to an NWSL final for the first time since winning the NWSL title in 2019 and after a tumultuous 2021.

“First half, I thought we were really good,” coach Sean Nahas said. “Obviously to go up 2-0 and play some pretty good football. The second half was completely [Kansas City], but the important thing is we didn’t break. We bent, but didn’t break. And to solidify that result against a good team, you know, I couldn’t be any prouder of the group.”

Courage defender Carson Pickett said that reaching the final is “crazy.”

“Getting back to being in a final this early seems a bit crazy,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a preseason tournament, it feels like the real deal. To get Washington back at home, it’s perfect timing and a perfect place. We’re so excited. We can’t wait to get back home and play on our home turf and have our fans in the stands.”