Paul Riley rang the changes in the second match of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup for the North Carolina Courage. Of the usual starting eleven, only Debinha, Abby Erceg and Lynn Williams stayed in the lineup against the Washington Spirit but those coming into the starting job for the first time more than held up on their own. At the heart of it all was Debinha as the Brazilian firmly took control of the game from the first whistle to the last.
From almost the first whistle, the Courage looked to employ a high pressing game, something that had missing from their first match. It was a smart move by Paul Riley because Washington love to play out the back and having his team hunt quickly for the ball led to quite a few turnovers in the first half. The left side of the team in particular became the source of much of the Courage’s offense as Debinha, Lynn Williams and Jaelene Daniels utilized the transitions really well.
Debinha, who as most Courage fans know, is one of the most creative players in the world and in the first half, she was the spark for anything good that North Carolina did. Within the first fifteen minutes she had played in McKenzie Meehan twice, cutting through the Spirit backline with ease. Unfortunately for the Courage, Meehan chose the wrong option each time and ended up stalling the attacks. During that impressive first 45 minutes, Debinha also almost produced the moment of the tournament so far. After playing Meehan in, the Brazilian stayed just outside the penalty area and found the ball at her feet near the top of the box. She then proceeded to curl a lovely effort towards the far post and Audrey Bledsoe was relieved to see it bounce off the post.
The post became the Courage’s best friend in the 23rd minute when a cross into their own area somehow bounced off of Bayley Feist, Abby Erceg and the near post, with Stephanie Labbé caught flailing due to the deflection. Despite being the more dominant team, North Carolina could not find the goal their play had deserved and went into half-time still goal less.
The second half got off to a flyer for the Courage as the introduction of Crystal Dunn, Samantha Mewis and Denise O’Sullivan meant that the team was almost at full strength. That played out five minutes after the second half started as a clearance by Addisyn Merrick found Lynn Williams racing towards the ball. Williams rode Samantha Staab’s tackle before cutting back on the same player and blasting the ball past Bledsoe in goal.
Debinha became even more impressive in the second half as the substutions meant that the Washington Spirit could not lock in defensively on her any more. The extra space allowed Debinha to thrive and she dictated the game as it wore on. Whether it was defensively or in the final third, Debinha was always open for a pass and played every possession meaningfully. She was at the heart of the Courage’s second goal in the 61st minute as she flew by Paige Nielsen, got to the byline and chipped the ball over for Williams to knock in from close range.
The scoreline could’ve been much more embarrassing for the Spirit but the Courage were still a little sloppy in the final third. As they get more into their rhythm, they will be able to outplay every team at the Challenge Cup based on tonight’s performance. Debinha is key to that and, even with non-starters around her at the start, showed that she can and will unlock any defense. It’s only a matter of time before she dominates this tournament and for Courage fans, that’s something to look forward to.