NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: July 17 & 18

NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: July 17 & 18

The Knockout Round of the NWSL Challenge Cup is officially here with the Quarterfinals set to kick off on Friday, July 17 when the North Carolina Courage take on the Portland Thorns at 12:30 p.m. ET. I know, it’s deja vu.

That evening the Houston Dash will take on the tournament hosts Utah Royals FC in a rematch of their tournament opener. Saturday will then see the Washington Spirit take on Sky Blue FC, while OL Reign and Chicago will close out the Quarterfinals later that night at 10 p.m. ET.

It’s win or go home now so be sure to continue casting your vote for who the Pride Stan will be pulling for and follow @ORLPride on Twitter as well as the Club’s pages on Instagram and Facebook.


Friday, July 17

No. 1 North Carolina Courage vs. No. 8 Portland Thorns FC (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
So when these two teams kicked off the tournament back on June 27, many thought there was potential to see them face off again in the knockouts. Where many would have been wrong however was seeing this matchup this early on.

The Courage did what the Courage do by taking care of business in the preliminary round and boasting a 4-0-0 record heading into the knockouts. They netted seven goals, while allowing just one to the Thorns in their tournament opener, with Paul Riley’s side not missing a beat in 2020.

On the flip side, the Thorns finished at the bottom of the table, with three draws and a loss through their first four matches. They only found the back of the net twice with their offense simply just unable to get going.

In their first matchup earlier on in the tournament, North Carolina stole all three points thanks to a Lynn Williams game-winner in second half stoppage time, the match finishing at 2-1. Both sides were pretty evenly matched however, with the slight edge in possession to North Carolina at 50.4% compared to Portland’s 49.6%. 

The Thorns defense has been a bright spot for them in the tournament, despite losing U.S. WNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn for likely the remainder of the competition following that North Carolina match. Goalkeeper Bella Bixby is questionable for this one, however, with a right knee injury, along with midfielder Lindsey Horan who is questionable due to an issue with her left hip.

If those two miss out, then the Thorns will have more than their work cut out in hopes of sending this North Carolina side home, who of course have a clean injury report leading into this one because the rich just get richer.

The winner of this match will take on the winner of the Houston/Utah match, slated for late Friday evening, in the Semifinals on July 22 at Rio Tinto Stadium. 


No. 4 Houston Dash vs. No. 5 Utah Royals FC (10 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
Buckle your seatbelts everyone, here we go again.

This Quarterfinal fixture will see a rematch of the most exciting game of the tournament thus far when the Houston Dash take on the Utah Royals Friday evening. 

In the tournament opener for both clubs, the two sides battled to a 3-3 draw with Utah overcoming a two-goal deficit in the last 10 minutes of the match to force the sides to split the points on the afternoon. 

Both sides would go on to win their next match and then drop their next two fixtures, with Houston defeating OL Reign before falling to Sky Blue and Washington, while Utah defeated Sky Blue before dropping results against OL Reign and Chicago.

The Dash started out the tournament on fire on the offensive end, scoring five goals in their first two matches before being shutout in their last two. The side will need forwards Rachel Daly and Shea Groom to continue what they started early on in order to make a run through the knockout stage. 

The Royals too have been shutout in their last two fixtures after scoring four goals to start the tournament. After standout performances from Amy Rodriguez and Vero Boquete in the Royals’ two opening fixtures, the veterans will need to replicate that in order for the hosts to defend their home turf (literally) throughout the remainder of the tournament.

The defense has been a question mark for both teams throughout, having conceded the most goals through the tournament at six for Houston and five for Utah. The Royals may have an edge on this end however, as U.S. WNT defender Kelley O’Hara has since returned to the pitch and will look to be a factor for Craig Harrington’s side through the knockout stage.

The winner of this match is slated to take on the winner of North Carolina/Portland in the Semifinals on July 22. 


Saturday, July 18

No. 2 Washington Spirit vs. No. 7 Sky Blue FC (12:30 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
The first match of Saturday’s doubleheader will see the Washington Spirit take on Sky Blue FC at Zions Bank Stadium. 

Following a 1-0 win over Houston in their last preliminary fixture, the Spirit locked up the two-seed for the knockouts, becoming the only team besides the Courage to win multiple games through their first four matches. 

The Spirit side has shown that multiple people can put the ball in the back of the net for them through the prelims, with four different goalscorers for their four tournament goals thus far. They may be without one of those however in U.S. WNT midfielder Rose Lavelle, who missed their last match due to an ankle injury.

Washington will also be without midfielder Andi Sullivan, who suffered a torn meniscus in their last match against Houston and will miss the remainder of the tournament. If the side has to take the field without Lavelle and Sullivan, then their threat to make a run in the knockouts is certainly diminished. 

Sky Blue has been hit or miss thus far in the tournament, with just two goals through four matches. Both those goals came in their lone win of the prelims, a 2-0 victory over the Dash, with the New Jersey-based side being shutout in their other three fixtures. This narrative will certainly need to change if Sky Blue hopes to upset the Spirit on Saturday.

Their defense however has been solid, with two shutouts to their credit in the preliminary round and allowing just three goals through four matches. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan is the tournament leader in saves thus far, with 14 registered in four matches.

The winner of this match will face the winner of OL Reign/Chicago in the Semifinals at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday, July 22. 


No. 3 OL Reign vs. No. 6 Chicago Red Stars (10 p.m. ET, CBS All Access)
The last Quarterfinal fixture will see OL Reign face off against the Chicago Red Stars at 10 p.m. ET, closing out the matches to take place at Zions Bank Stadium for the tournament.

Despite scoring just one goal in the preliminary round, OL Reign managed to lock up the third seed for the knockouts with one win and two scoreless draws pushing them to five points in the table. That lone goal came from 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer, a stoppage time game-winner against the Utah Royals on July 8.

Balcer left the Reign’s last match prior to halftime with difficulty breathing, but should be available for selection come Saturday. The Reign will certainly need Balcer, along with Darian Jenkins and Jodie Taylor, to find some rhythm here in the knockouts in order to continue on in the tournament.

The Reign defense however allowed just two goals through their first four matches, both coming in a 2-0 loss to Houston in their second match of the tournament. Goalkeepers Michelle Betos and Casey Murphy have combined for 12 saves throughout the preliminaries, each having played two matches thus far. 

Chicago avoided the bottom of the table thanks to an 86th minute game-winner off the head of Casey Short on Sunday against Utah. The Red Stars are clearly missing Sam Kerr though, with just two goals through their first four matches of the tournament. 

The Chicago defense has held strong however, allowing just three goals thus far with two of those coming from their opening loss to Washington on June 27. The midfield has taken a hit, with Yuki Nagasato expected to miss the remainder of the tournament due to injury, while Morgan Gautrat suffered a bone bruise against Utah last week and will likely be out for Saturday’s match.

The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of Washington/Sky Blue in the Semifinals on Wednesday, July 22 at Rio Tinto Stadium. 

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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.