The first two games of the 2019 Women’s International Champions Cup offered fans a chance to see a multitude of world-class players in person with nearly 40 of the players attending the tournament having represented their nation this summer at the World Cup.
For Courage fans, however, four of those nearly 40 stood out above the rest as the team’s semifinal against Manchester City was the first home appearance since the World Cup for the Courage’s four World Cup Champions: Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Jessica McDonald, and Sam Mewis.
Both Dunn and Mewis were named in head coach Paul Riley’s starting lineup with McDonald and Dahlkemper being among the subs. While the four had been at Sahlen’s Stadium for games prior to the match, this was the first time any of the four had been named in the squad for a match since the World Cup.
“I still don't think they are at the level they should be at,” Riley said. “They have a ways to go. Dahlkemper isn’t as fit as she needs to be and that’s why we left her out tonight. Sam Mewis isn't fully fit yet, [McDonald] way below fitness level for me, So they have a little bit of work to do.”
Mewis started the game in a double pivot alongside McCall Zerboni and impressed in the opening minutes, both with her passing and her defensive ability.
“They bring an emotional part for us and professional part I really like,” Riley said. “So when they aren't here you miss that, you miss that professionalism. When you are playing in practice against Sam Mewis you can only get better.”
Dunn also impressed in the first half with the midfielder letting loose a couple of shots but a majority of them went right into the hands of Man City keeper Ellie Roebuck. Dunn did beat Roebuck in the 26th minute but the goal was called back for a foul in the build-up.
Building on what she did in the first half Dunn continued to create chances both for herself and teammates in the second half but a majority of the Courage’s shots went right to Roebuck. Dunn’s creative play was huge on the night, especially playing in her preferred attacking role.
“A lot of people think I am a defender...,” Dunn said. “I am an attacking player at heart. I have always been and that is where I have always played. For me, I am a team player so wherever I am asked to play I’ll embrace my role.”
As well as both Dunn and Mewis played the hero of the night was second-half sub McDonald who netted the game-winning goal late in added time following a lengthy weather delay.
The result was a perfect return for the World Cup Champions as they received a raucous welcome from the 5,436 Courage faithful in attendance on their return to action at Sahlen’s Stadium.
“Absolutely amazing,” Mcdonald said. “It’s always an honor to play here at WakeMed. I played here plenty of times coming up at UNC, my alma mater, playing in front of my second home and it is just really nice to be back here with my Courage ladies. Just such a good tournament with some of the world’s best. It really doesn’t get better than this.”