When the NWSL Challenge Cup final went into an extended weather delay on Saturday after less than 11 minutes, several North Carolina Courage players took advantage of the break to catch a short nap. That admission, from goalkeeper Casey Murphy and defender Ryan Williams, was the only inkling made during postgame celebrations that even remotely strayed from the Courage mantra: hard work.
“This group is special,” Courage head coach Sean Nahas said, “I’m the only one [besides] my staff and some people that are here that have watched training, that see how hard they work every single day. I love this group. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.”
The Courage’s second consecutive Challenge Cup title, stamped by Saturday’s 2-0 win over Racing Louisville, was their seventh league trophy since the franchise arrived in North Carolina in early 2017. This Challenge Cup victory was so much different than the first.
A year ago, it was essentially a preseason tournament. This year’s Cup stretched nearly five months, being played on assorted weeknights to start and then as filler while the regular season took a break during the World Cup. (The weather delay lasted 2 hours, 19 minutes between whistles, stretching things out just a little bit longer.) Last year, the Courage were in recovery mode in the aftermath of the Paul Riley abuse scandal. This year, the storylines focused on the roster, and about the bevy of players who left over the offseason.
“We made a lot of changes that people questioned,” is how Nahas addressed it on Saturday, though there has been some more elaborate pushback during the season.
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