CARY, N.C. (Sept. 8, 2023) – The North Carolina Courage host the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup Final at WakeMed Soccer Park this Saturday, September 9, with a 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff against Racing Louisville FC on CBS. The Courage – defending Challenge Cup champions – are the first team to reach multiple Challenge Cup finals and would become the first two-time champion with a win on Saturday. (BUY TICKETS)
North Carolina got a late winner from Brianna Pinto in the sixth minute of added time Wednesday night to down the Kansas City Current, 1-0, at Children’s Mercy Park. The goal, at 95:10, is the latest second-half winning goal ever scored in an NWSL knockout match (all competitions). The win was the ninth in Challenge Cup play for head coach Sean Nahas, making him the all-time winningest coach in the tournament’s history (9W-1L-5D).
This will be the fifth final the North Carolina Courage have played in their NWSL history (Championship Game + Challenge Cup Final), equaling Portland for the most by a single club. North Carolina has won each of its last three finals, winning the 2018 and 2019 Championship Games and the 2022 Challenge Cup Final, outscoring opponents, 9—1, in those games.
Louisville struck early in their semifinal, capitalizing on a turnover by OL Reign’s back line for a goal from Kirsten Davis just shy of the half-hour mark. Despite being out-shot by 10, Louisville would hang on for a 1-0 win of their own, stunning the top-seeded Reign in Seattle. The win was the first in an NWSL knockout match for the 2021 expansion club as they make their first appearance in a league final. It was Racing’s ninth shutout in their last 19 matches. For the season, Louisville has kept five clean sheets on the road in all competitions, tied for the most of any NWSL team.
North Carolina has won all eight lifetime meetings with Louisville, the only matchup played five or more times, in all competitions, in NWSL history in which one team has won every meeting. The Courage have outscored Louisville, 14—2, in four meetings in Cary, taking the lead inside the first 15 minutes in three of those four games.
Louisville saw four players named to the 2023 Challenge Cup All-Tournament team in shooting star Savannah DeMelo, team captain Jaelin Howell, veteran defender Abby Erceg, and goalkeeper Katie Lund. North Carolina had a pair in the impressive defender Malia Berkely and energetic attacker Brittany Ratcliffe. Only one other club, Kansas City, had multiple players named to the most outstanding XI of the in-season tournament.
The Courage completed 551 passes Wednesday, the most by any team in a single match (all competitions) this season. The Courage hold the top three matches in 2023 Challenge Cup AND the top four spots in league play in successful passes. The beautiful style of play has allowed the young, counted out, Courage to continue to put on a great show for their supporters and prove doubters wrong. Louisville has been a scrappy, resilient team themselves this year despite being another club counted out in the preseason predictions.
Now, these two teams get to display their talents on a national stage with a trophy on the line.