The past two days saw the conclusion of the preliminary round of the NWSL Challenge Cup, with the matchups now set for the knockout stage of the tournament.
Sunday saw the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars come out victorious, our stan splitting the day with a 1-0-1 record. On Monday, the stan was unbeaten with a scoreless draw from OL Reign and Portland in the first match of the day followed by a shutout victory for North Carolina over Sky Blue to conclude prelim play.
Be sure to continue casting your vote for who we’ll be pulling for throughout the knockouts and follow @ORLPride on Twitter and also follow the Club’s pages on Instagram and Facebook.
Sunday, July 12
Washington Spirit 1, Houston Dash 0
The opening match of the last slate of prelim games saw the Washington Spirit defeat the Houston Dash, with a 16th minute finish from Bayley Feist serving as the eventual game-winner to solidify a top seed for Washington for the knockout stage.
The Spirit dominated this one, maintaining 59% of the possession while registering 13 shots with eight on frame, nearly doubling Houston’s number of strikes with seven. Feist led the attack for Washington all afternoon, responsible for five shots, three of which were on frame. Also, we’d be remiss not to mention that Dorian Bailey played 90 minutes and did not miss a single pass out of the 46 that she played for Washington. That’s insane.
Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe had to make just one save to record a shutout on the afternoon, with the six days of rest compared to Houston’s three seemingly making a large impact for Washington in this one.
The good news is that the Spirit were able to rest Rose Lavelle who was questionable with an ankle injury, but the bad news came in the 51st minute when Andi Sullivan went down. The club later announced that Sullivan suffered a torn meniscus and will miss the remainder of the tournament.
The Dash looked beat from the start in this one, unable to get their offense going in the same way we saw early on in the tournament. Head Coach James Clarkson referenced the rest factor as playing a large role. With the result however, other contests fared in favor of the Dash, who still hold the fourth-seed for the knockouts despite dropping their last two matches.
Washington will face off against Sky Blue FC for their Quarterfinal match on Saturday, July 18 at 12:30 p.m. ET, while Houston will take on Utah in a rematch of their dramatic 3-3 draw against the Royals in their tournament opener on Friday at 10 p.m. ET.
Chicago Red Stars 1, Utah Royals FC 0
The nightcap saw the Chicago Red Stars take their first win of the tournament, defeating hosts Utah by a score of 1-0. Congrats to Sandra Herrera on finally seeing a Red Stars win!!
Casey Short netted the game-winner, heading home a lobbed ball from Savannah McCaskill in the 86th minute. Short and forward Kealia Watt led the attack for Chicago on the night, each totaling two shots in the match.
The match was fairly even throughout, with Chicago with the slight edge in possession at 52.7%. Utah led in shots, with nine compared to Chicago’s seven, while each goalkeeper had to make three saves through the contest.
A bright spot for Utah came in the 71st minute when U.S. WNT defender Kelley O’Hara entered the match, marking her first appearance for the Royals of the Challenge Cup. O’Hara could be a huge factor for the Royals in fortifying their defense through the knockouts, something Head Coach Craig Harrington is definitely hopeful of.
Surrounding this match were a few off the field initiatives, with the contest serving as the Pride match for both clubs and also the subject of Chicago defender Sarah Gorden’s “Pass It On Challenge” to benefit the Get Yo Mind Right Chicago initiative. Gorden vowed to donate $5 to the initiative for every pass she completed, 31 in total, while teammates joined in with challenges for saves, tackles made and even how many times Head Coach Rory Dames yelled. The total raised has yet to be announced by the club.
With the win, Chicago avoided finishing in the last spot in the standings, now at sixth, and will face OL Reign in the Quarterfinals at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 18. Utah holds the fifth-seed for the knockouts, slated for a match with the Houston Dash on Friday at Zions Bank Stadium.
Monday, July 13
OL Reign 0, Portland Thorns FC 0
Disclaimer...we have not cursed the Portland Thorns. Okay, we might have.
Despite all the offensive firepower on the pitch for both sides, neither could find the back of the net. Portland led the way with 13 shots to the Reign’s nine and also held a slight edge in possession at 54.9%. Both goalkeepers had to come up at some point to preserve the shutout, combining for seven saves, the Reign’s Michelle Betos with four and Portland’s Bella Bixby with three.
OL Reign fans had cause for concern when 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer exited the match in the 40th minute and appeared to be visibly shaken. Balcer took to Twitter to assure fans that she is okay, but also reminded us all of the mental aspect that these players deal with at the professional level. We wish Balcer all the best and hope to see her back on the pitch for the knockout rounds!
With the result, Portland will now have to battle the North Carolina Courage once more in a rematch of the opening fixture of the Challenge Cup. That game will take place on Friday, July 17 at 12:30 p.m. ET at Zions Bank Stadium. OL Reign will face off against Chicago for their Quarterfinal matchup the following evening at 10 p.m. ET.
North Carolina Courage 2, Sky Blue FC 0
So stans, I have questions. Do you believe the curse is real and hoped it would work to knock off North Carolina or have we just given up?
Despite already having locked up the top-seed for the knockouts, Paul Riley played his best hand on Monday night, knocking off Sky Blue FC by a score of 2-0.
U.S. WNT members Sam Mewis and Crystal Dunn got on the scoresheet in this one, Mewis giving the Courage the early advantage in the seventh minute with Dunn doubling the lead after the halftime break in the 56th.
Despite the score, Sky Blue held the majority of the possession with 57.5% while totaling nine shots in the match. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan came up big on several occasions as per usual, registering six saves to put her total at 14 through four matches, a tournament high.
With the result, Sky Blue fell to seventh in the table and will now face the Washington Spirit in the Quarterfinals on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET, while North Carolina will take on Portland on Friday afternoon.