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Late goal lifts North Carolina to 2-1 win over Portland in first game of the NWSL Challenge Cup

COURTESY PHOTO: ROB GRAY/ISI PHOTO - Simone Charley (No. 38, right) got to this loose ball to score Portland's goal in the second half of Saturday's NWSL Challenge Cho opener.The first professional team sport contest in the United States in more than three months ended in frustrating fashion for the Portland Thorns.

Lynn Williams scored in the fourth minute of added time to lift the North Carolina Courage to a 2-1 win over the Thorns on Saturday in the opener of the National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup tournament at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.

Simone Charley scored for Portland in the 80th minute, answering a 75th-minute goal from North Carolina's Debinha.

"Incredibly proud of the workrate and the effort, but also the intelligence at times," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. "It's a shame we don't get a result. I think a result in this game would really reward the work they've done during COVID, and also preseason, on and off the field."

Putnam High grad Bella Bixby had a strong debut in goal for Portland. The former Oregon State keeper was credited with four saves and was especially good in the first half with a series of reaction stops keeping the match scoreless. Bixby got the start with Adrianna Franch unavailable because of injury.

Both of North Carolina's goals came from crosses into the box after finding space on the right wing.

The winner was the result of a delivery by Sam Mewis, who caught the Thorns defense out of position and got behind Becky Sauerbrunn. Mewis found Williams unmarked. Bixby got a hand on the close-range header, but couldn't keep it out of the net.

Portland's goal started with a Christen Westphal delivery into the box that Lindsey Horan headed off the cross bar. The ball went straight down and Charley was able to poke it home.

The game was the first pro team sports contest in North America since March. Both teams showed rust and fatigue playing in warm conditions at altitude, but the game had the intensity typical of a North Carolina-Portland battle.

Debinha opened the scoring by getting to a delivery from Hailie Mace after Mace broke free on a counter attack.

Next up for the Thorns is a 9:30 a.m. Wednesday match against Chicago. That game, and the rest of the tournament except for the championship match on July 26, will be streamed live on CBS All Access.

Each of the eight teams in the Challenge cup will play four games to set up seeding for the quarterfinal round of the knockout phase. The ninth NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, withdrew from the tournament when six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Teams are allowed five substitutions, and the Parsons used them all.

Tyer Lussi and Marissa Everett started up front with Christine Sinclair. Charley and rookie Morgan Weaver came on in the 54th minute. In midfield, Angela Salem played the first half and Celeste Boureille the second half. Westphal came on for Kelli Hubly at right back midway through the second half and Madison Pogarch replaced Meghan Klingenberg at left back for the final 15 minutes.

Horan left the game after taking a blow to the head late in the second half but was able to return.

Portland was without injured rookie forward Sophia Smith (left knee), defender Katherine Reynolds (right thigh) and Franch (right knee). Smith's injury has lingered since February. Thorns coach Mark Parsons has said he does not know if the No. 1 pick in the college draft will play in this tournament.

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