NWSL Challenge Cup Recap: Bye Semis, Hello Finals

recapping the Challeng Cup first day

The NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals have come and gone. And what a ride that was. Did you miss all the action? Read on for our recap.

The Tea

Before we get into the semifinal matches, there is some news to cover. On July 21st, the NWSL board met to discuss league matters, as they do. And it sounds like more NWSL games might be on the table for 2020. As for now, there is no concrete plan or exact format for how that might happen. The NWSL season usually ends late September/early October, so future games may take place around this time. In other news, North Carolina’s Sam Mewis is headed to Manchester City Womens. And Rose Lavelle might be following her. Mewis is available to leave immediately as the Courage were eliminated from the tourney. Meanwhile, Lavelle is still weighing her options. It’s not an unusual move. Many players eventually play overseas to gain more knowledge of European playing styles.

The Curse is Real

How real? Both the Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars decided to block the Orlando Pride Twitter account ahead of their games. We all know athletes tend to be superstitious, but this is on another level. Don’t believe me? Just take a look for yourself.

You can’t get this kind of content anywhere else. But despite Orlando’s supposed curse, the Pride topped all other teams in Twitter engagement during the Challenge Cup. What can I say? NWSL fans love a good curse.

Houston Dash v Portland Thorns

No one really knew what to expect with this game. Portland was missing a lot of its key players, even The Great Horan didn’t start. They also finished at the bottom of the table during the preliminary round. Houston had some hiccups, but overall looked like a solid team. So how did this matchup turn out? Well, Canadian legend Christine Sinclair almost scored for the Thorns, but her shot was too high.

Britt Eckerstrom made some key saves. But that was expected after her performance in the previous game.

But she can only do so much. It was only a matter of time before Rachel Daly put one in the back of the net. There was a lot of action in the box, and Daly capitalized. This tournament is really her time to shine. A member of the English national team, Daly has been a key player for the Dash for years. And now, she’s finally got her time in the spotlight.

https://twitter.com/NWSL/status/1286000651361640448?s=20

And just like that, the Dash evaded Orlando’s curse by defeating the Thorns 1-0.

Sky Blue FC v Chicago Red Stars

The first game was fairly mild. Probably because all the chaos was saved for the second match. Sky Blue came into this as the underdogs. Chicago consistently makes it to the semis and finals, so it’s not surprising to see them make it this far. And they came out swinging.

RIP that defender. And just minutes later, they scored again.

https://twitter.com/NWSL/status/1286124543522807815?s=20

And while Sky Blue had some chances, Naeher was not allowing it. It was 2-0 before halftime, and just after the second half started, Chicago scored again!

Many people would’ve stopped watching here, thinking it’s over for Sky Blue. There’s no way they could score now. And those people clearly haven’t been watching this league long enough. Just over 71 minutes into the match, Sky Blue scores off a corner kick.

That goal energized Sky Blue’s attack and Midge Purce was not about to give up without a fight. Thanks to her persistence, Sky Blue snatched another goal. Not because she scored, but because she caused enough chaos in the box to cause a Chicago own goal.

https://twitter.com/NWSL/status/1286146609219280897?s=20

It takes a special kind of skill to make two-time World Cup champ, Julie Ertz, arguably one of the world’s best defenders, to make such an egregious error. Not to mention that ball got past another two-time World Cup champion, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. All while having your leg wrapped in gauze because of severe turf burns. We salute you, Midge Purce. Expect to see her in a USWNT jersey soon. Despite all their hard work and having a majority of ball possession in the last 15 minutes, Sky Blue just couldn’t find that equalizing goal. Chicago advances to the final on a 3-2 win. Sky Blue lost, but they should be proud of themselves. I sure am. I remember the days when they would consistently finish at the bottom of the table. And now they’ve grown into a formidable opponent.

Onto the Final

We have our final bracket for Sunday’s final.

https://twitter.com/NWSL/status/1286171879510880256?s=20

Neither the Dash nor the Red Stars have ever won any kind of NWSL hardware. It’ll be a first for whoever ends up winning. But, the Dash are definitely coming into this as the underdogs. And it’s always fun to root for the underdog, but can they get past Chicago’s defense? Not that it really matters but, Rachel Daly, Houston’s hero, is currently dating teammate Kristie Mewis. But, Daly used to date Sarah Gorden, who plays for Chicago. Will it be a battle of the exes? I doubt it. Everyone’s a professional here. But it does add a little extra lesbian drama, right? Who do you think will be crowned the Challenge Cup champs?