by Brian Turrel
It was a soggy, disappointing Wednesday evening for Kansas City Current fans at Children’s Mercy Park. Under gray, dripping skies, the home team bowed out of the Challenge Cup pre-season tournament on a 2-1 loss to the North Carolina Courage.
The run of play favored the visitors almost from the start, and the Courage made it pay off in the 19th minute when Jenna Winebrenner was whistled for a handball in the penalty area. Midfielder Debinha put the penalty shot up the middle under the crossbar, nullifying A.D. Franch’s dive to the left.
The Courage doubled its advantage in the 36th minute when Kerolin Nicoli’s dribble caught the defense wrong-footed. Nicoli delivered a well-placed cross to Diana Ordoñez to shoot home from near the back post.
Kansas City created some momentum in the later stages of the first half, generating a series of corner kicks. The Current created some chaos in front of goal, and Alex Loera’s shot was deflected narrowly wide in the 39th minute.
The offense wasn’t able to find another clean shot, and North Carolina’s defense cleared the danger. A 42nd minute lunging save by Franch to stop a Nicoli sizzler from the left side kept the deficit at 2-0 at the break.
Current coach Matt Potter substituted freely through the second half to keep fresh legs on the field. Halftime substitute Lo’eau LaBonta brought some energy by finding lanes to push the ball up the left and center of the field.
Potter praised his team’s second-half response to the first-half deficit.
“I credit the team and the players for putting themselves in the position to score goals,” said the coach, “and we certainly did that in the second half. I felt we were the aggressor from start to finish.”
Kristen Hamilton got the home crowd back in a believing mood, scoring her fifth goal of the tournament in the 79th minute. Kristen Edmonds sent a free kick into the box, and Addie McCain won a header to put the ball at the feet of Hamilton in front of the goal.
Franch made another big save at the end of regulation to keep hope alive through stoppage, but the Courage kept the advantage and will move on to the Challenge Cup final against the Washington Spirit on May 7.
The Current are out of the tournament, but the regular season continues apace, with the home opener this Sunday against the Houston Dash, kicking off at 4 p.m. at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.