The NWSL became the first U.S. pro league to return to play when the Challenge Cup kicked off Saturday in Utah.
The opening game between the 2018 and 2019 champion North Carolina Courage
and 2017 champion Portland Thorns wasn't decided until the fourth minute of stoppage time when Lynn Williams scored to give the Courage a 2-1 win.
In the nightcap, another U.S.
national team player, midfield star Rose Lavelle, scored in the eighth minute to ignite the Washington Spirit to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Red Stars.
Much of the attention was
on what took place before the two games.
Before the first game, aired on CBS, all 22 starters, along with most reserves from both teams, wore "Black Lives Matters" T-shirts and took a
knee during the playing of the national anthem.
“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in
America," the Courage and Thorn players said in a joint statement. “We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that
the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone."
Unlike MLS, which will not play the national team before games when it resumes play on July 8 in
Florida, the NWSL said on Friday that it would play the national anthem before Challenge Cup games and support the players in whatever they chose to do.
Before the second game, most
Spirit and Red Star players knelt, but a few stood. Chicago defender Casey Short was in tears as she knelt, and fellow U.S. national team player Julie Ertz embraced her, while another
teammate, Rachel Hill, stood behind her. The players then all knelt for a moment of silence.
Short, a late cut for the 2019 U.S. Women's World Cup team, was the best outside back in the NWSL last
season, but her coach, Rory Dawes, said she wasn't herself in the first half but got back into the game after the break.
"It’s been an extremely emotional day for our group,"
he said. "I think everybody's exhausted. We were exhausted before we got here."
Dawes said the only way to learn and grow is to have conversations like those about how to handle the
"There were a lot of real conversations that were uncomfortable and difficult for people throughout the course of the day," he said. "But that's how, the only way things
The statements made on Saturday will certainly continue.
"I think we want to keep this momentum and keep the attention on the Black Lives Matter movement
throughout this tournament," said Courage midfielder Sam Mewis, another of the U.S. national team stars playing in the tournament.