We’re now heading into the final slate of matches for the preliminary rounds before we enter the Knockout Stage! With five teams all tied for second in the table, all four matches have major implications for seeding throughout the remainder of the Challenge Cup.
With Houston falling to Sky Blue the other night, North Carolina clinched the top-seed for the knockout rounds, sitting alone atop the table with nine points.
Moving down is where it gets interesting, with five teams all in lockstep for the second spot with four points each - Sky Blue, Houston, Utah, OL Reign and Washington.
Closing out the table are two sides that made the NWSL Playoffs a year ago in Portland with two points and Chicago with just one. Both teams will be desperate for a result in their final match if they hope to improve their chances in the knockout round.
These matches are big and we want to hear from you, the fans! To cast your vote for who the Pride Stan will be pulling for, follow @ORLPride on Twitter and also follow the Club’s pages on Instagram and Facebook.
Sunday, July 12
Washington Spirit vs. Houston Dash (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
The first match of Sunday’s doubleheader will mark the lone of the final slate of prelims that will see two sides square off that are currently tied for that second spot in Washington and Houston.
After a hot start to the tournament with a 2-1 victory over Chicago, Washington have since dropped a match to North Carolina and battled to a draw with the Portland Thorns, scoring just one goal in their last two contests.
Richie Burke’s side will need to get on the score sheet in this one if they wish to earn a victory against the Dash and solidify a top-seed for the knockouts. The firepower is certainly there for Washington if Rose Lavelle takes the pitch, but the U.S. WNT midfielder is listed as questionable for Sunday’s match. Regardless, with forwards Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez on the field there is potential for a lot of goals from this Spirit side, it’s just a matter of getting going in this one.
Houston enters the match tied with North Carolina for the most goals scored in the tournament, despite being shutout by Sky Blue Wednesday night. Forwards Rachel Daly and Shea Groom are tied for second in the Golden Boot race with two finishes each, trailing only Courage forward Lynn Williams. The Dash will need them to replicate that same firepower on Sunday night to earn themselves a high seed for the knockout stage.
Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals (10 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
Sunday night will see the Chicago Red Stars take on tournament hosts Utah Royals FC at Zions Bank Stadium.
This match is a must-win for the Red Stars if they wish to face anyone but North Carolina for their Quarterfinal matchup. Chicago is currently at the bottom of the table, with just one point to show for its first three matches.
In their last outing, the Red Stars put together their best performance of the tournament, but fell to the Courage 1-0 thanks to an 81st minute game-winner off the head of Abby Erceg. They’re going to have to put together the same type of performance, if not better, in order to take down this Utah side.
The Royals looked to be on their way to extending their unbeaten run to three matches on Wednesday against OL Reign until 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer struck in the 91st minute with a stoppage-time game-winner. Heading into Sunday’s match, three points is imperative for Utah in order to secure seeding in the top-half of the standings for the knockout round.
Monday, July 13
OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns FC (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
This matchup probes a lot of questions, as many would have thought we’d have seen more success from these two sides at this stage in the tournament.
Portland needs three points desperately in this one, with just two points from their first three matches thus far. While their defense has held strong led by goalkeeper Bella Bixby, the Thorns have only been able to find the back of the net twice throughout the tournament, with leading goal-scorer from a year ago Christine Sinclair yet to find the back of the net. That narrative is going to have to change if the Thorns want to better their odds at making a run in the knockout rounds.
The same holds true for OL Reign, with Bethany Balcer’s stoppage time finish on Wednesday serving as their first of the tournament. Their defense too has held strong, conceding just two goals in three matches, but the offensive prowess from Balcer, Jodie Taylor and Darian Jenkins that we saw in 2019 has simply been lacking.
Looking at these rosters on paper, this has the potential to be a thrilling matchup if both sides can get going. With the stakes in regards to seeding so high, fans should expect a good one Monday afternoon.
Sky Blue FC vs. North Carolina Courage (10 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
The last match of the preliminary round will have Sky Blue square off against the North Carolina Courage at Zions Bank Stadium.
With North Carolina already having clinched the top-seed for the knockout rounds, Paul Riley will likely opt to rest his starters in this one. However, if we’ve learned anything in the past, that means nothing in regards to the Courage. Like I’ve said before, it’s just an embarrassment of riches.
Sky Blue finally found the back of the net on Wednesday night, earning a 2-0 shutout victory over the Dash. The New Jersey-based side was able to get going on the offensive end for the first time in the tournament, registering nine shots with six on frame. Newcomer Ifeoma Onumonu led the efforts for Sky Blue, with an assist on Paige Monaghan’s opening score and three shots with one on frame in the match.
When facing North Carolina, Sky Blue will definitely need to build off their last performance if they want to make it back-to-back wins heading into the knockouts.