June 29 (UPI) -- United States Women's National Team soccer stars packed rosters to kick off the NWSL Challenge Cup and played up to expectations, as dramatic goals led the North Carolina Courage and Washington Spirit to victories.
The women's soccer league made its return Saturday after it was scheduled to start in April, but had to be suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Challenge Cup marks the return for live team sports in the United States.
The North Carolina Courage edged the Portland Thorns 2-1 in the first clash of the summer tournament in Utah. The Washington Spirit beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in Saturday's second game.
Players from all four teams knelt during the national anthem while they wore Black Lives Matter shirts before each game.
The teams released statements before the games and said they would kneel to protest "racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against Black people and people of color in America."
North Carolina Courage 2, Portland Thorns FC 1
Star striker Lynn Williams scored a stoppage time goal to lead the Courage to a narrow victory in the NWSL Challenge Cup opener Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman.
Courage midfielder Debinha scored the first goal of the tournament. Hailie Mace dribbled up the right flank before she crossed a feed in for the Brazilian in the 75th minute. Debinha headed the pass into the near post for first blood.
Thorns forward Simone Charley scored an 80th-minute equalizer before Williams netted the winner. A deep cross fell into the box during that sequence before Charley collected the loose ball and finished from point-blank range.
U.S. women's team star Samantha Mewis assisted the game-winning tally. Mewis raced down the right flank before she sent a deep cross toward the far post. The precise pass found the head of Williams, who knocked a shot by Thorns keeper Bella Bixby.
Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan, Abby Dahlkemper and Crystal Dunn were among the other U.S. women's team stars to play in the matchup.
Washington Spirit 2, Chicago Red Stars 1
Rose Lavelle's Washington Spirit knocked off Julie Ertz's Chicago Red Stars in a matchup between two U.S. women's team superstars Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium. Lavelle got the scoring started in the eighth minute before Ashley Hatch doubled the lead in the 46th minute.
Red Stars midfielder Morgan Gautrat (formerly Morgan Brian) cut the Spirit lead in half in the second half but Chicago could not net an equalizer down the stretch.
Lavelle -- who scored the clinching goal for the U.S. at the 2019 Women's World Cup -- appeared to have an assist in the eighth minute, but Hatch couldn't finish after she received a Lavelle feed right in front of the net.
U.S. women's team keeper Alyssa Naeher blocked Hatch's shot. The ball then bounced back out to Lavelle, who ripped a shot in from about 6 yards out.
The Spirit capitalized on a brutal defensive mistake by the Red Stars for their second goal. The Spirit defense played the ball back to Naeher during that play.
Naeher stopped the ball with her feet and went to clear it out of the box before Hatch blocked her kick. Hatch then tapped the ball into the empty net in the 46th minute.
Vanessa DiBernardo set up the Red Stars' lone score. The Chicago midfielder slipped a pass into the Spirit box in the 51st minute. DiBernardo's service was deflected by the defense and ended up at the feet of Gautrat, who finished with a rip into the left side of the net past Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe
The NWSL Challenge Cup continues with the Houston Dash in a clash against Utah Royals FC at 12:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday. OL Reign battles Sky Blue FC at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
Portland Thorns FC and the Washington Spirit play their second matches on Wednesday. The Thorns battle the Red Stars at 12:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The Spirit take on the Courage at 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday. All of those matches will air on CBS All-Access.
European soccer standings
Spain's La Liga remains tight after Real Madrid retook the lead in the standings with a 1-0 win against last-place Espanyol Sunday in Barcelona. Madrid now leads FC Barcelona by two points in the La Liga standings. Barcelona fell behind after they had a 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo Saturday in Vigo.
Madrid striker Karim Benzema provided a spectacular nutmeg heel assist for Casemiro's score in Sunday's triumph. Luis Suarez scored twice in Barcelona's draw, as star striker Lionel Messi remains one score away from career goal No. 700.
Barcelona has a chance to briefly retake the La Liga lead if they can beat Atletico Madrid in a game scheduled for 4 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Barcelona. Madrid's next game is against Getafe at 4 p.m. EDT Thursday in Madrid.
Liverpool have already wrapped up England's Premier League and Bayern Munich have claimed Germany's Bundesliga. Both leagues remain competitive as teams compete for spots in the Top-5 so they can clinch positions in the Champions League. Teams in England also are battling in the FA Cup.
The FA Cup semifinals are now set after Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City each prevailed in quarterfinal clashes over the weekend. City claimed the final spot with a 2-0 triumph over Newcastle Sunday in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
The Sky Blues will now face Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinals on July 19. United battles Chelsea in the other semifinal on July 18.
The Bundesliga featured another full slate of games on Saturday. The 18 active German squads combined for 34 goals. Bayern Munich cruised to a 4-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg. Hoffenheim knocked off second-place Borussia Dortmund 4-0. Third-place RB Leipzig moved up the standings with a 2-1 win over Augsburg.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus maintain a four-point lead over second-place Lazio in Italy's Serie A. Lazio beat Fiorentina 2-1 on Saturday while Juventus was dormant. Ronaldo's squad takes the field at 1:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday against 13th-place Torino.
Third-place Inter Milan remains in striking distance after a 2-1 win against Parma Sunday. Milan sits four points behind Lazio and eight points behind Juventus in the Serie A standings.