SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — The return of professional team sports in America. The National Women’s Soccer League kicked off a month-long tournament called the Challenge Cup, near Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Portland Thorns dropped the tournament opener 2-1 against the NWSL defending champs, North Carolina Courage, marking the first pro team sports league in the U.S. to resume play since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports.
Although Zions Bank Stadium in Harriman, UT was empty, without fans, the television broadcast had audio of crowd noise. This was the first time in the history of women’s pro club soccer in the U.S. to have a match air on network TV (CBS).
“You don’t really realize that there are no fans after a while because you just have to make your own atmosphere,” said Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn. “You have to create your own energy and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Rex Putnam High School and Oregon State Beaver, Bella Bixby made her Thorns debut at goalkeeper, notching 4 saves. She’s the second native Oregonian to appear in a match for the Thorns.
All of the scoring happened in the second half. The Courage got the party started with a Debinha header in the 75th minute. The Thorns answered five minutes later with a Simone Charley goal. The match was on pace for a draw when North Carolina’s Lynn Williams found the back of the net in stoppage time (90+3) for the game-winner. The Courage defeat the Thorns 2-1 in the opener of the Challenge Cup.
“We’re disappointed, but I think we’re also hungry and we’ve already been talking about what we can do better,” said Sauerbrunn. “We’re going to be a little down about this, but we’re going to watch film, train, improve and be ready for the next one. We’re hungry, we’ll be ready to go.”
Portland’s second match is against the Chicago Red Stars on Wednesday, July 1 at 9:30 a.m. PT.
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