Indy Eleven celebrates its victory in the 2023 USL W League Final after a 2-1 win against NC Courage U23 after extra time before a crowd of 5,419 fans at Michael A. Carroll Stadium. | Photo courtesy Matt Schlotzhauer / Indy Eleven
INDIANAPOLIS – Alia Martin’s goal in the first period of extra time lifted Indy Eleven to a 2-1 victory against NC Courage U23 in the 2023 USL W League Final on Saturday afternoon, earning the Girls in Blue the second title in league history before a boisterous crowd of 5,419 fans at Michael A. Carroll Stadium.
The attendance set an Indiana record for the highest-attended women’s soccer game in the state’s history.
Martin’s game-winner, which earned her the Final MVP award, followed a back-and-forth contest that had seen Indy take a second-half lead through Maddy Williams before North Carolina’s Lauren Martinho responded with 15 minutes to go to send the game to extra time.
Having pegged back their hosts to force an additional 30 minutes, the Courage had the first-half chance of extra time on a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was comfortably saved by Indy goalkeeper Nona Reason, but in the 99th minute the hosts regained the lead. Off a corner kick from the right a defensive header at the back post fell for Martin, who at the second attempt looped a brilliant overhead kick that dropped into the top-right corner of the net.
North Carolina tried to respond quickly, but Indy’s defense worked to limit clear chances as Grace Bahr in particular worked to block shots in front of Reason. Phoebe Goldthwaite had an effort from 20 yards just before the end of the first period that curled over the top-left corner of the net for the visitors, while Mia Olario also sent an effort high early in the second period after a good move allowed her to open space in the right channel.
Indy had moments where it looked to get on the front foot in pursuit of an insurance goal, too, but the Courage had more consistent pressure as they pushed for an equalizer. It produced a chance with eight minutes to go when Hannah Jabril controlled in the right side of the penalty area but snapped her shot well wide of the left corner. Indy also withstood another scramble in the box after a threatening Courage free kick from the left, while Jabril went close on a near-post cutback from the right by Izzy Brown with a minute to go.
The Courage went even closer in stoppage time as a corner kick from the right fell to Taylor Chism in the left side of the penalty area for a shot that took a slight deflection before rattling the outside of the left post. After Reason claimed the ensuing corner kick, however, the visitors’ hopes of completing an undefeated season came to an end as Indy held on for victory.
North Carolina had made the brighter start of the sides in the opening 90 minutes, holding the majority of possession, but the first big chance for the visitors came in the 12th minute when Martinho stole possession in midfield and broke forward alone only to be denied by a one-handed save by Reason.
The chance saw the game open up and swiftly Indy had a chance of its own as Williams and Sam Dewey combined to set up a chance for Williams from the left side of the penalty area that curled just wide of the right post. Indy threatened again six minutes before the halftime break as Dewey eluded a defender at the top of the penalty area and forced a good low save by North Carolina’s Emmie Allen.
The Courage continued to control more possession as the second half began, but Indy’s incisiveness in creating opportunities saw the hosts break the deadlock. After helping the hosts retain possession in the attacking half, Williams finished deftly with the outside of her right foot after being played in behind the North Carolina back line by Greta Kraszula in the 64th minute to put the Girls in Blue ahead.
North Carolina hit back with 15 minutes to go, however, as Olario and Aven Alvarez worked possession on the right to create space for Olario to deliver a left-footed cross that found Martinho, whose header looped into the left corner of the net.
Indy looked to regain the lead late as substitute Maisie Whitsett delivered a cross from the left that came to Lizzie Sexton in the right side of the penalty area, only for Sexton’s shot to be turned onto the left post by Allen before the defense cleared to safety as the game headed to extra time. Through Martin’s finish, though, the hosts were able to hold on to secure the first league title in club history.
IND – Maddy Williams (Greta Kraszula) 64’
NCC – Lauren Martinho (Mia Olario) 75’
IND – Alia Martin 99’
Indy Eleven: GK – Nona Reason; D – Grace Bahr (Rhonda Ojongmboh 116’), Greta Kraszula (Rafferty Kugler 67’), Annika Creel, Jenna Chatterton (Susie Soderstrom 81’); M – Alia Martin, Ella Rogers, Sam Dewey (Maisie Whitsett 67’); F – Katie Soderstrom, Maddy Williams (Emma Johnson 67’), Addie Chester (Lizzie Sexton 77’)
NC Courage U23: GK: Emmie Allen; D – Brooklyn Holt, Bella Ayscue, Braelynn Francher (Taylor Chism 79’), Aven Alvarez (Phoebe Goldthwaite 79’); M – Lauren Martinho (Hannah Jibril 107’), Katie Groff, Maggie Graham (Amelia Brown 60’); F – Mia Oliaro, Mackenzie Geigle (Izzy Brown 60’), Emily Moxley
MVP: Alia Martin, Indy Eleven