As the sun sets on the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, the atmosphere feels different. The Houston Dash have won their first-ever championship.
The final came around with two teams on completely different paths. Houston arrived as the underdog, written off at every turn in thus far.
Chicago were in their second consecutive NWSL Championship game.
Both teams started the game with every intention of winning the fixture. More importantly, they both realistically could do it.
The Dash have struggled in previous years to create goals and scoring chances but with Rachel Daly winning the Golden Boot in Utah, the tide may be turning.
Chicago started the game with all the vigour and intensity you would expect of them. Their fast start was undone just five minutes in.
Kristie Mewis won the first penalty in normal-time of the whole tournament. Sophie Schmidt made no mistake with the spot-kick to give James Clarkson’s side the lead.
When scoring first, Houston had a 100% record going into the final. That statistic stayed true.
Sophie Schmidt and was asked at half-time what the Dash needed to do to maintain the lead.
“Our strength is staying compact defensively and going off the counter,” Schmidt said. “We need to be more patient and get more players on the ball to create more chances.”
The Red Stars looked uncharacteristically toothless in attack. The Chicago side is usually free-scoring but Savannah McCaskill’s best efforts proved not enough.
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She hit the post early on and had a speculative effort well saved by Jane Campbell in the second half.
Chicago identified their problems and changed their system accordingly. Their forward-thinking left them vulnerable at the back and allowed the Dash to double their lead in injury time.Embed from Getty Images
Shea Groom scored the second in the 91st minute, breaking through the Red Stars’ back-line. She took the ball round the oncoming Alyssa Naeher to put it in the back of the net.
Houston have won an NWSL title for the first time in their history – in their first final no less – which is a result that not many predicted.
Captain and golden boot winner Rachel Daly dubbed them simply ‘winners’.
Houston Dash will now look forward to next season where they will be attempting to retain the NWSL title.