By Washington Post |

North Carolina Courage overruns upstart Washington Spirit, 2-0, in NWSL Challenge Cup - The Washington Post

Lynn Williams, seen here against Portland on Saturday, has scored three goals in North Carolina's first two Challenge Cup matches in suburban Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

By Steven Goff

Steven Goff

Reporter covering soccer (D.C. United, MLS, U.S. national teams, World Cup), plus some college basketball.

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July 2 at 12:15 AM

The Washington Spirit is young, fun and bubbling with promise. The North Carolina Courage, however, remains the class of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Colliding early in the NWSL Challenge Cup, the two-time defending league champions flexed their muscles in the second half Wednesday and overran the ambitious upstarts, 2-0, at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.

Lynn Williams, one of five U.S. national team players on the Courage roster, scored twice in an 11-minute span as North Carolina (2-0-0) took sole possession of first place in the preliminary round of a month-long tournament that’s expected to be the NWSL’s only competition this year.

The Spirit (1-1-0) had opened the tournament Saturday by defeating 2019 league runner-up Chicago.

Both teams made lineup changes after their respective openers, most notably North Carolina, which rested World Cup veterans Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis and Crystal Dunn in the first half.

The match got off to a crackling start, fueling promise of a compelling 90 minutes. Spirit captain Andi Sullivan tested Stephanie Labbe from distance in the third minute and, two minutes later, Debinha curled an 18-yard shot off the far post.

Spirit superstar Rose Lavelle, who scored in the opener, navigated pockets in the attacking end.

As the game settled, however, Washington’s authority waned. Giveaways in its own end under duress allowed the Courage to build quick-strike opportunities. Debinha’s creativity and unpredictably put the Spirit on its heels. Amid growing pressure, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe needed to control the penalty area.

At intermission, Courage Coach Paul Riley inserted Mewis and Dunn into his midfield. The Spirit was in big trouble.

North Carolina’s breakthrough came less than five minutes later. Williams ran onto a pass on the right flank. Defender Sam Staab’s tackle was not clean.

Williams was off and running. She cut toward the target and, before the retreating Staab could catch her, Williams stung an eight-yard shot into the low, near corner.

"It's not IF Lynn Williams will punish you, but WHEN."@lynnraenie with a solo masterpiece 🖼

0-1 | #WASvNC

Tune in now on @CBSAllAccess and @Twitch.#NWSLChallengeCup

— NWSL (@NWSL) July 2, 2020

Eleven minutes later, Debinha worked her magic on the right side and crossed into the six-yard box. Williams escaped Tori Huster’s mark on the back side and scored with a leaping, left-footed touch for her third goal of the tournament.

Come for Debhina's 🎯 cross, stay for the finish. 😎@lynnraenie has 3️⃣ goals in 2️⃣ games this summer!

0-2 | #WASvNC

Tune in now on @CBSAllAccess and @Twitch.#NWSLChallengeCup

— NWSL (@NWSL) July 2, 2020

The Spirit had no answers. The abundance of possession in the first half failed to materialize as the Courage controlled the midfield. Fatigue set in.

Lavelle did not see much of the ball and, with North Carolina in charge and at least three matches ahead, she came off in the 71st minute.

On Sunday the Courage will face Chicago (0-1-1) at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time and the Spirit will play the Portland Thorns (0-1-1) at 10 p.m. CBS All Access, a digital pay service, will provide live coverage.

The eight teams will play four matches apiece in the preliminary round, then shift into the quarterfinals.