When Lyon Féminin walk out against North Carolina Courage in what is a re-run of last year’s inaugural Women’s International Champions Cup Final, you might be forgiven for thinking that there had been a mix-up and, instead of their team sheet, the Team of the Tournament from the recent World Cup finals had been submitted instead by mistake. Dotted in between the names of some of the finest France internationals - Sarah Bouhaddi, Wendy Renard, Amadine Henry, Eugénie Le Sommer - there is a flurry of England internationals - Lucy Bronze, Alex Greenwood, Nikita Parris - a German star, Dzsenifer Marozsán, and, to top it off, one of the finest players in the world, the Norwegian Ada Hegerberg.
The North Carolina Courage team is not to be sniffed at either, though. World Cup winners Samantha Mewis, Crystal Dunn, Jessica McDonald and Abby Dahlkamper are joined by USWNT alumnus Heather O’Reilly, Canadian Stephanie Labbé, Brazil’s Debinha and New Zealand captain Abby Erceg, making Sunday’s final a veritable smorgasbord of international footballing delights.
That it is uncontroversial to label Lyon the best team in the world at the present time is an indication of just how good they are. Winners of four consecutive Champions League titles in the last four years, their 4-1 win against Barcelona this year would recommend them as eventual winners this weekend.
However, there are a number of things that suggest that North Carolina Courage could run out victors in the final. Ironically enough, Lyon’s impressive World Cup pedigree could count against them. After a long summer, many of the World Cup attendees will have only just returned to full training before the International Champions Cup. Of course, the Courage are also facing the same problems - all four of their USWNT stars have only picked up one NWSL start each after their World Cup antics - but the fact that they are further along in their match fitness will mean they have a slight edge.
These two clubs’ relative schedules also stand to benefit the North American side over their European counterparts. Playing, as they do, in the NWSL, North Carolina Courage are deep into their season, which runs from April to October. Lyon, on the other hand, are yet to kick off their 2019/20 campaign in the D1 Féminine. This peculiarity of the footballing calendar gave the Courage a huge advantage in last year’s final of the International Champions Cup - a match which they ended up running out 1-0 winners thanks to an early Heather O’Reilly goal.
The final of the 2019 Women’s International Champions Cup is set to be a finely balanced affair, then: an occasion which will allow many of the preeminent talents in the women’s game will be able to show off their skills. Whilst it may be tempting to label Lyon the favourites, expect the Courage to come out positively and bring the game to the European powerhouse, making the most of their advantages.
The final will kick off on August 18th at 7:30 p.m. EST at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. Viewers in the United States can watch on ESPN2.