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NWSL Challenge Cup MVP: Manaka Matsukubo makes history

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North Carolina's Manaka Matsukubo celebrates her game-winning goal in the Challenge Cup final. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Manaka Matsukubo made history during the 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup – in more ways than one.

Matsukubo, 19, a midfielder for the North Carolina Courage, became the youngest player to start in a game in the tournament. And then, on Saturday, after the Courage’s 2-0 win over Racing Louisville in the final, she was named Challenge Cup MVP.

After the game, Matsukubo was asked through a translator how she felt. But instead of waiting for the translation, Matsukubo beamed and offered her answer: “I’m so happy.” Her teammates erupted in joy around her.

The midfielder scored in the 54th minute of the final, icing the win after Kerolin found the back of the net in the 28th minute.

Matsukubo scored on an assist from teammate Tess Boade, who broke through the line and sent a through ball to Manaka. Manaka one-timed the reception and chipped the ball into the top right corner of the net, becoming the youngest player ever to score in the Challenge Cup.

The Courage acquired Matsukubo on loan from Mynavi Sendai of the Japanese WE League for a fee. She had scored four goals and added an assist during the 2022-23 WE League season.

“We are very excited to add another young talent to the team. Manaka is one of the young up and coming talents in world football. A player with a simple approach to the game and ability to unlock opposition through the thirds,” Courage head coach Sean Nahas said in a press release announcing her acquisition.