It’s not the Women’s World Cup, but it will have a decided World Cup flavor to it.
The North Carolina Courage is hosting the Women’s International Champions Cup, bringing in three strong international clubs. More than 30 players on the four teams competed in the recent World Cup, including four from the Courage who will be playing their first home match at WakeMed Soccer Park since winning the championship in Lyon, France.
“I think there’s so much buzz around the World Cup where we want that to carry over to the other years of the cycle,” Courage midfielder Samantha “Sam” Mewis, a member of the U.S. National Team, said at a Wednesday news conference. “I think a tournament like this is a great opportunity for fans to further the game of women’s soccer when it isn’t the World Cup. Hopefully, if there are people in the area who haven’t been to Courage games and they’re coming to ICC, maybe they’ll keep coming to Courage games.
“To have teams from four different leagues playing each other and to be doing it domestically ... it’s really an exciting thing for us. It’s cool that it’s part of this carrying on the World Cup buzz, which we want to create an exciting atmosphere all year round, every year.”
The Courage, the defending champion, will face Manchester City in Thursday’s second semifinal match at 7:30 p.m. The first semifinal, with a 5 p.m start, will have Spanish champion Atletico de Madrid taking on Olympique Lyonnais, a six-time UEFA Champions League winner.
The winners play Sunday at 7:30 p.m. after a third-place game at 5 p.m. There’s a trophy awaiting the ICC champion.
Here are three things to know about ICC:
Courage players come home
It has been a while since Courage fans have seen Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn and Jessica McDonald in a home match.
All four contributed as the U.S. team went to France as a solid favorite, handled the pressure and came back with the FIFA World Cup trophy, being feted in New York and Las Vegas. Mewis played six matches and had two goals and an assist in the opening match of the tournament against Thailand.
Dunn led the NWSL in goal scoring before the World Cup and had a goal and a near-miss Sunday in the Courage’s 2-1 road loss to the Portland Thorns.
“Sometimes when you get away from league play for a while, it’s good, especially after a loss,” Courage coach Paul Riley said at the news conference. “For us it’s about preparing for a different type of team and different type of game. It means a lot to our league, and we want to represent our league as best as we can.”
The world’s best player is in Cary
Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg, 24, is considered by many the best player in the world, a forward who was the BBC women’s footballer of the year in 2019. She also caused a stir by not playing for Norway in the 2019 World Cup, skipping the competition as a protest move against what she believes is a lack of gender equity in the game and a lack of support from her country’s soccer federation.
Lyon’s Lucy Bronze, who played college soccer at North Carolina, competed for England in the World Cup. She was the Silver Ball winner, finishing behind Megan Rapinoe of the United States, who was named the competition’s best player. Defender Wendie Renard was on the French team that lost to the Americans 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
One player who probably won’t be on the pitch is forward Ellen White of Manchester City. Coach Nick Cushing, whose team is in its second week of preseason preparations, said White has “an unfortunate injury” that should keep her out of the ICC.
White won the Bronze Boot Award in the 2019 World Cup as Rapinoe and Alex Morgan of the United States took the top two spots, respectively, as the leading goal-scorers in the tournament.
It’s the second ICC
The inaugural event was held last year in Miami, and the Courage was without its U.S. National Team players, who were competing in the Tournament of Nations.
The Courage topped Lyon 1-0 in the championship game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, on a goal by Heather O’Reilly, her first with the Courage. It was noted after the game that Riley’s 4-1-4-1 formation was the first time he had started a line forward up top since the team relocated to North Carolina.
The second ICC has brought together an interesting mix of teams and strategies. Man City lost its semifinal to Lyon last year and did not face the Courage, but will get that chance Thursday.
“We were really keen to play them and play the U.S. opposition because it’s a new experience for us,” Cushing said Wednesday. “They’re an incredible team, the best team in America currently. We’re excited for the game.”
Women’s International Champions Cup
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary
When: Thursday (semifinals), 5 p.m.; and Sunday (championship final, third-place game), 5 p.m.
Tournament information: NCCourage.com
Tickets: Start at $25