New York — The North Carolina Courage are headed back to the Women’s International Champions Cup this summer and will aim to defend their title in a very familiar setting. Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina’s home field, will host the tournament semifinals on August 15 and the final and third place game on August 18. The details of the tournament were announced by Relevent Sports on Friday at a press conference in Manhattan.
The ICC will remain a four-team tournament this year and Olympique Lyonnais, Manchester City and Atletico Madrid will join the Courage. North Carolina, Lyon and Man City all played in last year’s tournament. Atletico Madrid replaces Paris-Saint Germain.
Women’s ICC matches will be broadcast on ESPN, Relevent Sports announced, and tickets will be available for purchase later this spring on the ICC website. Relevent also said there will be prize money for the winners of the tournament for the first time.
“We can’t just rely on the World Cup every four years and the Olympics every four years to be these platforms for women’s soccer. The ICC is just another layer in professionalism and competition for the women’s game,” Courage midfielder Heather O’Reilly said at the announcement. “This is our club World Cup.”
The Courage won last year’s inaugural ICC, beating Paris-Saint Germain 2-1 in the semifinal and Olympique Lyonnais 1-0 in the final in Miami.
O’Reilly scored the game-winning goal for the Courage in the final. The tournament took place during the Tournament of Nations and the Courage were missing several key starters due to international duty as they played PSG and Lyon.
“It was a thrill. Everybody on the North Carolina Courage was so excited about the tournament,” O’Reilly said “To win the ICC we had to go pretty deep into our roster, so to be able to win it was something I think we’ll all remember.”
O’Reilly continued, “I think there was a lot of jealousy last year from other clubs throughout the U.S. They thought it was cool that we were able to face off against these premiere clubs from around the world. I’m sure that they wanted to be a part of it. I also thought that there was a bit of camaraderie around them actually supporting us, in a way. It was almost like the Ryder Cup in golf, where it’s U.S. vs Europe or U.S. vs. the world. It felt like there was a little bit of pride amongst the NWSL players to see an American club win the ICC. That was nice, to feel like they had your back.”
O’Reilly attended the event alongside Courage president Curt Johnson. “We feel an urgency. Urgency to compete against the best, learn from the best, test ourselves against the best. We also feel an urgency to evolve and to create a situation, opportunities where we can compete,” Johnson said. “Strike while the iron is hot. Maybe some view the Women’s World Cup–‘Why are you having this [in a Women’s World Cup year]?’ No, we should be doing more in this moment in time. My view is it’s going to be larger and better with the fuel of the Women’s World Cup leading into this event.”
Relevent Sports’ Brendan Doyle said on Friday that the goal is to expand to an eight-team tournament in 2020 with two NWSL teams hosting the games.
The Courage also announced that their home match against the Houston Dash, previously scheduled during the tournament, would now be played in September. Originally set for August 16, the Dash will now travel to North Carolina for a Tuesday night match-up at 8:00 p.m. ET on September 17.