The North Carolina Courage opened the 2018 NWSL season in style on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a 1-0 win over Portland Thorns FC at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. The game had been billed as a rematch of the 2017 NWSL Championship, which was won by Portland 1-0 in Orlando last October.
The Courage turned around that score to open the new season, courtesy of a brilliant goal from midfielder Debinha.
In the 70th minute, Denise O’Sullivan got the ball for North Carolina and dribbled at several Portland defenders before dishing it off to her fellow midfielder. Without breaking her own stride, Debinha collected the pass and unleashed a right-footed shot that beat a diving Adrianna Franch to the far post.
Debinha appeared in 25 games, including the playoffs, for the Courage last season — but missed the final after dislocating her left elbow in the semifinal win over the Chicago Red Stars.
The game marked the NWSL return of Crystal Dunn, who spent 2017 playing for Chelsea in England. The Courage acquired her rights in a trade with the Washington Spirit in January.
“American soccer is quite different than English football. That’s for sure,” Dunn told Dalen Cuff after the game on the NWSL on Lifetime broadcast. “I think my team put in max effort today. We’re going to build on today.”
The Courage controlled possession 56%-44%, according to Opta. They outshot the Thorns 20-3 in total shots, and 4-1 in shots on goal.
Both teams were missing key players in the match. The Thorns were without defender Emily Menges, who made a key block in last year’s championship match, because of a right lower leg stress reaction. They were also missing Tobin Heath, Hayley Raso, Andressinha, Caitlin Foord and Ellie Carpenter because of injuries and international duty. Sam Mewis missed the game for North Carolina with a right knee strain.
Courage forward Darian Jenkins made her NWSL debut in the game, entering as a sub in the 67th minute. Jenkins was drafted out of UCLA last year by North Carolina but missed all of 2017 with a left ankle dislocation/fracture.
The 1-0 scoreline was very similar to last year for North Carolina. In 2017, between the regular season and the playoffs, the Courage recorded eight wins by the same score.