It wasn’t going to be an easy task but the North Carolina Courage made their 2-0 win over Racing Louisville look easy in the NWSL Challenge Cup final. Kerolin and Manaka Matsukubo were the goal scorers in the day but in truth, the hosts easily could’ve scored more.
Racing Louisville physically just weren’t able to stay with the Courage after their cross-country trip from Seattle to Raleigh and the toll of that travel showed throughout. Despite the mental resilience that flashed on occasion, Louisville were second to almost every ball and it gave the Courage an easier time that they might’ve expected.
After ten minutes, the game had to be delayed for roughly two hours due to the weather but before, and after that delay, the Courage were the better team. That never changed despite Louisville’s late push especially when you consider how little Casey Murphy was tested by the Louisville attackers.
The Courage started off the match on the front foot and stayed that way until later on in the second half. They knew that Racing Louisville may get off to a slow start and by getting an early goal, could tire out their opponents even more as they chased the game. Their gameplan worked perfectly when after eight minutes, Kerolin scored from a seemingly impossible angle.
You can't give her an inch— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 9, 2023
Kerolin becomes the first player to score in multiple Challenge Cup finals! pic.twitter.com/bEV0OzsUOc
Had it not been for Katie Lund, the Courage would’ve scored many more goals as they continually found gaps within Louisville’s backline to exploit. In fact, Lund’s heroics made the hosts have to wait until the 54th minute to find the back of the net. The goal though, was worth the wait.
Manaka, who had been lively all game long, found herself furthest forward and despite the pass to her taking a deflection, produced an audacious finish to make sure of the win for North Carolina. The 19 year old more than deserved her goal as she, along with Kerolin and Narumi Miura, had been the Courage’s standout performers in this final.
Gonna watch this more than a few times— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 9, 2023
Manaka Matsukubo's first NWSL goal is one to remember! pic.twitter.com/qio1JL3Hy7
Racing Louisville tried to mount a challenge late in the game, but despite coming close on a few occasions, never forced Murphy into making more than one big save in those moments. You could see that had they been a little bit fitter, and less physically drained, they were more than ready to match the Courage’s intensity but the schedule worked against them.
Racing Louisville will now look back to the NWSL regular season and their push to make the playoffs. They have put together a string of good results so far and can take a lot from what happened in this game today. The Courage, who are near the top of the standings, will look to use this win to push on and try to win the NWSL Championship once again. They look primed to do it and with Kerolin in the form she is, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if they do.