Lynn Williams scored in halftime and the North Carolina Courage defeated the Portland Thorns 2-1 in the opening game of the National Soccer League Women's Challenge Cup tournament on Saturday.
The NWSL is the first professional team sport to return in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but fans will not be able to participate in any of the games. The teams had opened preseason training camps but had not played a game when the league closed on March 12.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE SPORTS COVERAGE AT FOXNEWS.COM
Players from both teams collectively knelt during the national anthem and wore Black Lives Matter jerseys in pregame warm-ups to protest racial inequality.
After a goalless first half, Brazilian Debinha made her way through Courage by hitting a ball served by former UCLA standout Hailie Mace. But the Thorns tied it minutes later when Simone Charley scored a stir in front of North Carolina's goal after Lindsey Horan's shot bounced off the crossbar.
Williams scored the goal lead on a header from a cross by Samantha Mewis.
"I just saw an opening and just when I looked up I thought, 'She's going to cross it,'" Williams said. "Fortunately, no one scored for me and luckily it was in goal."
The Washington Spirit plays the Chicago Red Stars in the tournament's late game on Saturday night.
All eight teams participating in the Challenge Cup are kidnapped in Utah for the duration of the month-long tournament and must follow a strict protocol that includes frequent testing.
But the tournament was rocked earlier this week when the Orlando Pride was forced to withdraw due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests between players and staff.
The Courage are the two-time defending champions of the NWSL and considered the favorites in the Challenge Cup. Last season they scored 54 record goals in the league.
In the previous meeting between the two teams last season, the Courage defeated the Thorns 6-0, led by Williams with three goals.
"I think the amazing thing about this team is that when we are down we are always going to keep fighting," Williams said. “We haven't played together in eight months and there is altitude and a little bit of nerves and so on. But that's the only thing this team is proud of is that no matter what the situation is, we will continue to fight until the last minute. "
Courage forward Jessica McDonald, who was on the US national team that won the World Cup last summer in France, did not play due to a thigh injury.
Las Espinas had no goalkeeper Adrianna Franch due to a right knee injury. Bella Bixby made her NWSL debut and Thorns in goal.
"For a first game where we can get out, it's a shame we don't get the result," said Thorns coach Mark Parsons.
Courage rookie Ally Watt had to be pulled out after a non-contact injury in the second half. She was replaced by Mace, who assisted on the team's first goal moments later.
There was also a moment of silence before the game when the league recognized the national outcry following George Floyd's death while in Minneapolis police custody.
“We kneel today to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against blacks and people of color in the United States. We love our country and have taken this opportunity to keep it at a higher level. It is our duty to demand that the freedoms and liberties on which this nation was founded extend to all, ”Thorns and Courage said in a joint statement released before the game.