It all comes down to this.
On Sunday, the Houston Dash will take on the Chicago Red Stars in the final of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium. The match will be nationally televised on CBS, with kickoff slated for 12:30 p.m. ET.
When predicting the tournament early on, it’s doubtful that many would have picked these two teams to be fighting for the Challenge Cup title. No matter the result, the winner of the contest will lift their first trophy in the NWSL since the league’s inception in 2013.
The Dash came into the tournament with a lot of question marks surrounding them after multiple key departures this offseason. However, after scoring five goals in their first two fixtures, Houston was off to a hot start before dropping their final two matches of the prelims.
Entering the knockouts, the Dash still were unable to replicate that same firepower, but managed to knock off the Royals via a penalty shootout in the Quarterfinals. Then, on Wednesday, a finish from captain Rachel Daly served as the eventual game-winner to punch Houston’s ticket to the final.
For the Red Stars, they had a rather lackluster start to the tournament, taking just one point from their first three matches and scoring just one goal with Sam Kerr’s absence quite apparent. However, an 85th minute game-winner from defender Casey Short against Utah in the last match of the preliminary rounds seemed to be the turning point for Chicago in the tournament.
The Red Stars would go on to defeat OL Reign in a penalty shootout in their Quarterfinal fixture before earning a 3-2 victory over Sky Blue in the Semis, with their offense finally looking to come together after a tough start to the Challenge Cup.
Chicago will be shorthanded come Sunday, once again without defenders Tierna Davidson and Casey Short, as well as midfielders Morgan Gautrat and Yuki Nagasato. However, U.S. WNT stalwart Julie Ertz is very much available and if the Red Stars’ defense can hold up in the same manner it did for the first 70 minutes of their Semifinal match, then it will prove a difficult task for the Houston offense to break through.
On the flip side, Houston’s defense may be without defender Morgan Oyster once more, who is questionable after suffering a broken rib in their Quarterfinal match against Utah. Led by former Red Stars defender Katie Naughton, the Dash backline will have to continue their form as of late in order to fend off a Red Stars offense consistent of forwards Kealia Watt, Rachel Hill and Katie Johnson.
If we’ve learned anything thus far from this competition, it’s to expect the unexpected and simply just enjoy the world-class talent on the pitch. Be sure to tune in on CBS on Sunday to catch the match and see who takes home the Challenge Cup title!