The final countdown is on! The National Women’s Soccer League will return in a cup-style tournament kicking off on Saturday, June 27. It’s named the Challenge Cup for a reason; it will be a challenge.
Taking place in Sandy and Herriman, Utah, this will be the first major league sporting event to restart in America during the coronavirus pandemic. Teaming up domestically with broadcaster CBS, the league is hopeful this will stir the interests of sports fans across the States.
The NWSL will be replacing their usual 2020 season with this 23-game tournament. Formatted like the World Cup, teams will only have a few days of turnover before they hit the pitch again.
With the Challenge Cup now a day away, let’s look at what each team brings to the table. Who is in, who is out, and what in the world are those betting odds doing in this tournament? Queue the high-stake rollers to make an entrance into the women’s game.
Chicago Red Stars
After a very promising 2019 season, there is one element that could throw a wrench into the Chicago Red Stars’ system. Will the team suffer because they are lacking Sam Kerr, who moved to the WSL at the start of the year?
Many speculate that this will be a question mark for the opposition moving into this season. One thing that is for sure is that Sam Kerr will be missed in the Red Star lineup, but who can fill this spot?
Well, head coach Rory Dames did sign Kealia Ohai to the the line of attack. This addition will help the Red Stars stay in the form fans have gotten used to.
Sure Sam Kerr was a powerhouse, but we cannot forget about Julie Ertz, Savannah McCaskill, Yūki Nagasato, Morgan Brian, and Casey Short. Each of these players will be looking to keep things the same as last season.
The Houston Dash have been looking for some answers to help them climb up the table.
In hopes to dash on toward the title, we do have some new players to look forward to. Megan Oyster, Katie Naughton, Katie Stengel, and Bri Visalli are among the incoming players. This implies that the Dash want to strengthen the backline while also securing the plan of attack.
With Houston losing Kealia Ohai, spectators should keep their eyes on Stengel and Visalli to maintain the same power in the attack. Will these recent additions help Rachel Daly, Kristie Mewis, Sophie Schmidt, and Jane Campbell excel in the 2020 standings?
North Carolina Courage
North Carolina, what else do we have to say. This club will be looking to capitalize on not losing too many players in the off season with hopes of adding to the hardware cabinet.
After winning the NWSL Championship two seasons in a row, it’s not hard to believe that the Courage are laser focused on defending that title. Coach Paul Riley is always prepared and has the depth in his squad to make sure all bases are covered. The Courage have several USWNT members that help fill out the amazing talent this team possesses.
It’s important to mention the players who make this squad so explosive. Kristen Hamilton, Debinha, Abby Erceg, and rookie Ally Watt will all be looking to help secure wins for the Courage in this tournament.
Watt is especially one to keep an eye on. The rookie forward out of Texas A&M signed a two-year deal with the Courage. She is no stranger in finding the back of the net and has the potential to help the Courage continue their dynasty. Fans are eager to see her join the team’s front line.
There’s a new face and a new name in town. Though, these changes do not deter the competition. OL Reign are still the same threat they have always been. With the slogan “We Are the Bold”, you best believe they will be using that boldness in this cup.
Their hopes of making it back to the final are high. In fact, the team spent their preseason in Montana climatizing for the competition.
OL Reign also have both new and familiar faces that fans are very riveted to see come on the pitch. However, new head coach Farid Benstiti will have to fill in the gap of Megan Rapinoe.
The 2019 Ballon d’Or winner announced that she would not be participating in the Challenge Cup. While she brings a lot to the squad, there is no need to worry. Jess Fishlock is fit and ready to go!
The Bold have signed former PSG player Shirley Cruz, as well as Sofia Huerta and Amber Brooks from the Houston Dash. Another recent addition to the squad is Japanese player Yuka Nicole Momiki, who is eager to light up Reign’s attack.
On June 15, the club announced that Alana Cook would be coming to join the team on loan from PSG. This is the first time that we have seen a player loaned out for a single tournament. The American native will have fans eying a possibility to join the league in the future.
Portland Thorns is the same veteran squad we are used to seeing, but with some added depth.
During the offseason, they signed the most talked about player from the 2020 NWSL College Draft: Sophia Smith. Morgan Weaver also joined the Thorns’ ranks as the draft’s second overall pick. Thorns fans are buzzing over their recent transfers of Rocky Rodríguez and Becky Sauerbrunn. Together, these incoming players will be looking to add to the balance in this very strong team.
On June 17, Lindsey Horan was on Men in Blazers’ Instagram live stream. When asked how she is feeling with the NWSL Challenge Cup, Horan expressed her excitement for the tournament.
“[It’s] so cool that it is the first professional league to start up. We are mentality getting prepared. It will be exciting to show how we can manage in a tournament setting, not just regular club play.”
Horan also stated that the club’s home kit will help them out this year and that its appearance is “number one but other clubs’ kits have done a fantastic job.”