NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: July 4-5

NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: July 4-5

We’re now heading into the second week of matches for the NWSL Challenge Cup with four fixtures scheduled for the holiday weekend.

All sides are looking up at North Carolina right now, who sit atop the table with six points. The Spirit follow with three while the six remaining clubs currently have one point apiece. 

To cast your vote for who the Pride will be cheering on, follow @ORLPride on Twitter and also follow the Club’s pages on Instagram and Facebook.


Saturday, July 4

Utah Royals FC vs. Sky Blue FC (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
After playing to draws in their opening fixtures, Utah and Sky Blue will square off in the first of two Fourth of July matchups, looking to earn their first victories of the calendar year.

The Royals overcame a two-goal deficit against the Dash on Tuesday to salvage a point on the afternoon in a thrilling 3-3 draw. Goals came from Diana Matheson, Vero Boquete and eighth-overall selection in the 2020 NWSL College Draft Tziarra King, with 2019 leading goal scorer Amy Rodriguez registering an assist in the contest.

The host club will once again be without U.S. WNT defender Kelley O’Hara, listed as out with a left quad injury, leaving a noticeable hole on the backline for the Royals. However, their offensive performance looked promising on Tuesday, something they’ll look to replicate come Saturday’s match. 

In terms of the opposition, Sky Blue wasn’t able to get going offensively in their first match, playing to a scoreless stalemate with OL Reign.

Newcomer in the middle McCall Zerboni was the star on the night for the New Jersey-based side, who were unable to connect the final pass for much of the evening, as Sky Blue only registered eight shots in the match. However, facing an arguably less formidable defense in the Royals may provide greater opportunity than their Tuesday match.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan looked true to form for Sky Blue however, registering four saves to maintain a clean sheet in the match, while the remainder of the defense put in a solid performance to keep the Reign out of the back of the net. 


Houston Dash vs. OL Reign (10 p.m ET, CBS All Access)
Saturday’s nightcap will see these two sides also looking for their first victories of the tournament, as Houston will look to replicate an impressive offensive performance from their first match.

English international forward Rachel Daly did exactly what she does best, finding the back of the net twice (maybe should have been three times) in their matchup with the Royals. Shea Groom accounted for the Dash’s remaining finish, wasting no time getting going in her Houston debut.

The most glaring concern for the Dash was simply losing their 3-1 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the match. The side will certainly be focused on putting together a complete 90-minute performance when they take on the Reign on Saturday.

Shifting to OL Reign, the side was able to create a fair amount of chances on Tuesday night, but couldn’t convert in the final third. Darian Jenkins spearheaded the attack with four shots in the match, while forward Jasmyne Spencer had arguably the best chance on the night in her return to the field since suffering a season-ending injury a year ago. 

The Tacoma-based club will once again be without Jess Fishlock and Sofia Huerta, both listed as out for Saturday’s match. The attack likely will continue through 2019 Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer, Jodie Taylor and Jenkins, who will look for their first finishes of the 2020 campaign.


Sunday, July 5

North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
Sunday’s first fixture will serve as a rematch of the 2019 NWSL Championship as the two-time defending champion Courage take on the Chicago Red Stars.

The Courage have continued to do what we’re used to seeing them do. I know, it’s annoying. 

Paul Riley’s side shut out the Washington Spirit by a score of 2-0 on Wednesday, with forward Lynn Williams remaining true to form with a brace in the match. Williams now leads the race for the tournament Golden Boot with three finishes through two contests. 

With just 45 minutes logged in the match, U.S. WNT members Crystal Dunn and Samantha Mewis should be fresh for Sunday’s match, along with last year’s team MVP Denise O’Sullivan. Forward Kristen Hamilton also had limited minutes on Wednesday, subbing in at the 68th minute. It’s just an embarrassment of riches at this point for this North Carolina side.

Shifting to Chicago, they opted to sit the majority of their starting lineup for their midweek match with the Thorns, sitting all five federation players along with Yuki Nagasato and Kealia Watt. Following a match to rest, we should see these players return to the field on Saturday. 

Midfielder Savannah McCaskill had a rather impressive performance in the midfield, even though the Red Stars couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net, leading the team with three shots. 

With just one point through their first two contests, the Red Stars will have to field their best XI in order to garner some points from Sunday’s match and improve their seeding for the knockout round.


Portland Thorns FC vs. Washington Spirit (10 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
The weekend slate will round out late Sunday night as the Portland Thorns take on the Washington Spirit.

The Thorns are in a must-win situation here, sitting with just one point through two contests. The side looked to be on the way to a draw with the Courage in their first match before Lynn Williams struck in stoppage time, and then were unable to convert on Wednesday against the Red Stars.

Nobody has really been able to get going on the offensive for Portland except U.S. WNT midfielder Lindsey Horan, who has hit the woodwork multiple times through the side’s first two fixtures.

The bright spot has been goalkeeper Bella Bixby, who registered her first clean sheet in NWSL action on Wednesday. With the Thorns facing off against a rather stacked Spirit offense, Bixby will have to maintain her form in order for Portland to earn a result in this matchup.

Looking to the Spirit, once again I’ll remind you - Rose Lavelle is very good at soccer.

Lavelle controlled much of the midfield in the first half against the Courage, but was unable to connect in the final third with forwards Ashley Hatch and Bayley Feist to get the ball in the back of the net. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe will likely have to put in another strong performance to keep the Thorns at bay, a task that shouldn’t be too tall for the 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year. 

The Spirit currently sit in good position with three points from their tournament opener against Chicago, but Richie Burke’s side undoubtedly needs another win to maintain their position in the driver’s seat to a high seed in the knockout stage.

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UPDATE: June 10, 2020 - Major League Soccer announced it will restart the 2020 season with all 26 MLS clubs competing in the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida beginning July 8. Upon completion of the tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets. The revised schedule may see certain matches from the original 2020 MLS regular season schedule being cancelled or rescheduled. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season and related ticket policies will be announced in the coming weeks.