CARY, N.C. — It is the rare team that can make Olympique Lyon sweat, even with the assistance of a stifling summer evening in North Carolina. But rarer still is, well, Lyon.
There is still only one of those. The world might not be big enough for two of them.
The best team in women’s soccer removed the lone nagging impediment to using that label with a 1-0 win against the North Carolina Courage in the Women’s International Champions Cup final. After losing to the Courage in the final of the inaugural edition of the event last year, Lyon now holds not only this title, but the past four Champions League titles and 13 French titles.
This wasn’t a referendum on the women’s game in North America and Europe. It wasn’t even a referendum on the more select group of elite teams in Europe that contend for the Champions League, teams increasingly affiliated with giant men’s clubs, and the best teams in the NWSL, often affiliated with MLS and the USL.
This was about one team, a team so good and so rich in talent — not to mention just rich — that it rarely gets tested. It rarely has to play any way but the way it wants. But it was tested Sunday. North Carolina challenged Lyon to prove it could play faster, adjust quicker.
Lyon showed its greatness not by imposing its will, but by doing just that. It played the game North Carolina wanted to play. And when the moment presented itself, Dzsenifer Marozsan didn’t hesitate to show why the best team in the world can win that way, too.
“This was a game that they had to play their absolute best,” Crystal Dunn said. “They got a really great chance, and they put it in the net. … We didn’t sit in, we didn’t allow them to just play the game and us back off them. I think we played them straight up. We had some great moments. We had them chasing for times in the game, and they had us chasing, too.”
In the sixth minute, Marozsan gathered a short pass in a relatively benign part of the field — just inside the midfield stripe and a few yards from the sideline. Standing with her back to the goal Lyon was attacking, she held the ball at her feet just long enough to survey her options.
Captain of the German national team and a mainstay in Lyon’s titles, Marozsan is about as savvy a player as there is in the sport. But she dawdled in this instance, or whatever the German word is for dawdle, and didn’t see North Carolina midfielder Denise O’Sullivan coming.
“She was probably surprised,” O’Sullivan allowed afterward with a grin. “She’s probably like, ‘She’s a small girl.’ I’m a fighter, and I’ll keep battling against top players. That’s part of my game, and I’ll keep doing that.”
O’Sullivan picked Marozsan clean and launched the Courage on an attack that was stymied only after Lyon’s Lucy Bronze threw her body at Lynn Williams in…