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As Women’s ICC returns, organizers eye bigger event

CARY, NC — After the North Carolina Courage won the inaugural Women’s International Champions Cup in Miami last year, reactions spanned a spectrum. On one extreme, the Courage were trumpeted as the champions of the women’s soccer world. On the other, they’d won a jerry-built junket that was purportedly treated as practice by all but one participant.

Perhaps the most objective and salient observation came a week later. North Carolina defeated the Portland Thorns on August 5 to claim the 2018 NWSL Shield. Thorns and U.S. national team standout Lindsey Horan, without prompting, interrupted her postgame interview to heap plaudits on the Courage for their ICC victory.

“I think that was the first time I was a Courage fan because I was cheering them on,” said Horan, who began her professional career in France playing with Paris Saint-Germain. “It’s one of the coolest things for the NWSL. We want to catch people’s attention, we want people to know about our teams. It just shows how great this league is, how well we’re doing, and that we can match up against some of the best teams in the world.”

The second edition of the Women’s ICC kicks off this week in Cary, NC, with the Courage now hosting the four-team, two-day tournament. North Carolina will face fellow returnee Manchester City on August 15, while Olympique Lyonnais, the European powerhouse that the Courage defeated last year to claim the ICC trophy, will take on Atlético Madrid, the reigning Spanish club champions for three years running. The winners and losers will face off on Sunday, August 18, with the championship match being broadcast on ESPN2. In total, over 40 players seen in the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup could appear in Cary this week. Moreover, four of the 12 finalists for this year’s Best FIFA Women’s Player will be on hand: Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Lucy Bronze, and Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg (Ellen White was not included on the Manchester City roster for the event.)

Last year’s Women’s ICC took place during a FIFA international break that coincided with the Tournament of Nations, meaning the Courage won without six starters who were away with their respective national teams. The Courage will have their full-strength squad for this year’s tournament, which was carved out of the NWSL regular season schedule when their August 16 match against the Houston Dash was moved to September 17.

Although Courage manager Paul Riley is excited about hosting some of the world’s best women club teams, he’s also cognizant of managing his players’ minutes, especially his four American players coming off a World Cup run and the first Victory Tour friendly. Moreover, the Women’s ICC is wedged between North Carolina’s August 10 match at Portland and a visit by Reign FC on August 24. Riley says the Courage will enjoy just one day of training on Wednesday prior to kickoff of the Women’s ICC.

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