Miami, Florida — On Sunday night (9 p.m. ET on ESPN2) at Hard Rock Stadium the NWSL’s first-place North Carolina Courage will meet five-time UEFA Champions Olympique Lyonnais in the first-ever International Champions Cup Women’s Tournament final.
The tournament kicked off on Thursday with the Courage earning a 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyonnais defeating Manchester City 3-0. PSG and Man City will also play on Sunday for the third-place match (6:15 p.m. ET on NWSLsoccer.com and NWSL app).
The final will feature the current best clubs in their respective leagues. For the Courage, head coach Paul Riley’s side is in first place in the NWSL with a 14-1-4 record and 46 points. While Olympique Lyonnais are in preseason ahead of their season, the squad that made the trip to Miami features five players who were recently named to the FIFA The Best Women’s Player short list (Amandine Henry, Wendie Renard, Lucy Bronze, Ada Hegerberg and Saki Kumagai.)
While neither side has met before, both clubs are aware of what one another’s capabilities are. For the Courage, they know French midfielder Henry all too well. Henry played for 2017 NWSL Champion Portland Thorns FC — who beat the Courage for the title — last season before re-joining Olympique Lyonnais.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Courage captain Abby Erceg said after training on Friday. “The players that they have are quite exceptional. You’ve got Henry, [Eugénie] Le Sommer — it’s just the lineup that they have is amazing! It’s going to be a big challenge, but I like challenges and I think this team likes challenges. We thrive around them. I’m excited because you play for these moments. You want to play in big stadiums, in big events against the best players in the world.”
If you ask Henry who the best team in the NWSL is, she will without a doubt say Portland, but regardless, the midfielder is excited to play against a team she not too long ago battled it out with in the NWSL Championship.
“I’m excited because it’s a different style of play than the style in Europe. It will be good, but also harder for us because we [just started] our season and they are in season,” Henry said after her team’s victory over Man City on Thursday. “But they have good players and very fast [players]. But, I think if we have possession it will be a good game. I really hope that we win.”
Henry said that she follows the league as closely as she can, but the time difference and jet lag often gets in the way.
“I’m excited because I think [the Courage] are the best team at the moment, but I think Portland is still better,” Henry said, laughing. “No, no, but seriously, [North Carolina] is a great team.”
In June, the Courage acquired the rights to midfielder Heather O’Reilly in a trade with Utah Royals FC. O’Reilly joined the team after spending the 2017 season and the beginning of 2018 playing for Arsenal. O’Reilly said before she joined the Courage, and before she even knew that the NWSL would have a team included in this historic tournament, she wanted in.
“As soon as I saw it announced, I thought that it was so incredibly cool,” O’Reilly said on Saturday. “Due to my experience over at Arsenal for the last year and a half, I was exposed to this whole side of global women’s club football that I didn’t know too much about. So to play Lyon, who is arguably the best women’s club team in the world, will be a great opportunity, a great challenge, and one we’ll be up for.”
O’Reilly never had the chance to play Lyon during her stint overseas, so Sunday will finally be her time to take on several of the world’s best players.
“In terms of world class players, they have a lot in every position,” O’Reilly said. “Le Sommer and Hegerberg up top will be a good opportunity for our backline to be tested against some of the best strikers in the world. And you know, Wendie Renard, their center back is absolutely world class in that position. She’s a physical force and has led France and Lyon for a long time now. She’s someone I’m looking forward to going up against.”
O’Reilly’s eyes lit up when she was asked who she is most excited to take on Sunday.
“Lucy Bronze,” she said. “If I find myself on the same side as her it’s certainty going to be a physical battle. She covers a lot of ground and for a right back she scores a lot of goals, so she’s inspiring in terms of her physical capability, but also in terms of her ability to participate in goal scoring opportunities.”
Lyon are also excited to take on a U.S. team. Ada Hegerberg, who scored and chipped in an assist on Thursday night, is soaking in every moment of this opportunity. “This is my first time in the U.S.,” the Norwegian forward said after the game on Thursday. “I have only ever been to Canada for the World Cup. [Miami] is brilliant. It is just like in the movies. It is ridiculous and I’ve been loving it so far.”
Hegerberg could name a few of the Courage players, naming O’Reilly and Erceg, and said she also pays attention to the NWSL, but like Henry, said the time difference makes it difficult.
“I don’t watch a lot of the games often, because the games are bad timings for us, but it is exciting to play against an American team,” Hegerberg said. “It is a different type of football than what we play in Europe. I’m really happy that we get to play against North Carolina on Sunday.”
Bravo Team! Belle victoire pour commencer la saison ??? Next up; North Carolina on sunday! https://t.co/DLvCZsuS0t
— Ada S Hegerberg (@AdaStolsmo) July 27, 2018
Both the Courage and Lyon have already made history by being part of this inaugural women’s tournament, however Sunday will hold another level of prestige when the first winner of the tournament will be crowned.
“More than anything this game is just a really great opportunity to compare these two great clubs that wouldn’t have a chance to do it otherwise,” O’Reilly said. “Everybody likes to say that they have the best league and the best team in the world and this is an opportunity to prove it.”