NWSL kicks off third annual Challenge Cup

NSWL: San Diego Wave FC vs Angel City FC
FULLERTON, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 19: Sofia Jakobsson #10 of San Diego Wave controls the ball against Ali Riley #5 of Angel City FC during the second half of the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup at Titan Stadium on March 19, 2022 in Fullerton, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, the third annual National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Challenge Cup kicked off to determine this year’s winner. Newcomers are expansion teams Angel City and San Diego Wave. They made their debut last weekend.

The Challenge Cup is divided into three divisions, Central, East, and West. The Central division has the Chicago Red Stars, Kansas City Current, Houston Dash, and Racing Louisville. The East division has NJ/NY Gotham, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, and Washington Spirit. Last but not least, the West division has Portland Thorns, OL Reign, Angel City, and San Diego Wave.

Each team plays a match, home and away, against each team in their division. The top teams in the division, advance to the semifinal which will determine the two teams who play in the final on May 7.

Here’s how the weekend went:

Racing Lousiville vs Kansas City Current

The first game of the weekend featured the second-year team Racing Louisville and recently rebranded Kansas City Current. Jess McDonald, the newest addition to Racing, and recent college draft pick Jaelin Howell got the start. Kansas City’s newly acquired players, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams got the start for the Current.

The game started with an early shot from Williams that was saved by Racing goalkeeper Katie Lund, who’s in her first year as a starter. Later in the 20th minute, Racing’s Cece Kizer scored the first goal of the game assisted by McDonald. Kizer’s shot went to the left, out of the reach of Current’s keeper AD Franch. The rest of the half saw shots off target and few on target for both teams.

Coming into the second half, the Current made a substitution for Mewis, bringing in Addie McCain. After many shots from both sides, Kansas City finally broke the deadlock. In the 78th minute, McCain scored the lone goal for the away side which was assisted by Williams.

The game ended in 1-1, splitting the points between the teams.

OL Reign vs Portland Thorns

Embed from Getty Images

The last game on Friday featured OL Reign and the Portland Thorns, also known as the Cascadia Rivalry. Both teams showed up with strong lineups that promised an exciting game.

The first chance for the Thorns came from Hina Sugita, which was saved by Reign’s keeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce. The Reign had a few chances off target but nothing too dangerous for either side. In the 19th minute, Reign’s Sofia Huerta scored a right-footed volley from outside of the box that soared passed Tullis-Joyce.

Later in the 28th minute, the Thorns were on the board. Sophia Smith had a one-on-one with Tullis-Joyce that was saved and rebounded to Canadian star, Christine Sinclair.

Sinclair easily slotted the ball in the bottom right corner to make the score 1-1. The rest of the match saw few chances from either side, ending the match 1-1.

North Carolina Courage vs NJ/NY Gotham FC

Embed from Getty Images

The Courage and Gotham kicked off the set of games on Saturday. Recent signings Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger got the start for Gotham while key players Allie Long and Ifeoma Onumonu were out due to injury.

Gotham came out flying right away looking for the first goal. New signing Cameron Tucker had the first chance but shot the ball just wide of the goal. In the 22nd minute, Brianna Pinto scored the first goal for Courage. Harris dove for the shot but it was out of her reach to get a touch on it.

In the 51st minute, centre-back Abby Erceg netted the second goal for North Carolina. Once again, Harris had no chance to save the well-shot ball. Gotham made a few offensive substitutions, but nothing helped score their two goals needed for the tie.

The game ended 2-0 with three points going to North Carolina.

NSWL: Orlando Pride vs Washington Spirit

Embed from Getty Images

The Pride faced the defending NWSL champions, the Spirit in the first game of their cycle. Orlando is currently in a rebuilding phase which saw many offseason trades that left fans perplexed. The Spirit had a very similar squad compared to their championship-winning team.

The first chance from either side comes from young forward Trinity Rodman who shoots the ball from outside the box but was saved by Pride’s keeper, Erin McLeod. Spirit forward Tara McKeown had a shot a few minutes later but was saved again by McLeod. The Pride’s first chance came in the 41st minute, Darian Jenkins had. a header from the center of the box but it was saved by Aubrey Kingsbury.

The Spirit comes right out of the gates after halftime with a shot from Kelley O’Hara. The shot was once again saved by McLeod. The Pride’s final attempt came in the 84th minute from Marta which was saved by Kingsbury. The game ended 0-0 splitting the points between the teams.

Angel City FC vs San Diego Wave

Angel City and San Diego Wave made their NWSL debuts against each other for the final game Saturday evening. Christen Press made her long-awaited debut for Angel City after a seven-month mental health break.

In the seventh minute, Press shot a powerful, right-footed shot to the top centre of the goal, but it was expertly saved by Wave’s Kailen Sheridan. A few minutes later, Press has another shot that was once again saved by Sheridan.

The teams went into halftime scoreless after a few shots from both sides.

In the 49th minute, Angel City’s Savannah McCaskill headed the ball into the bottom right corner just out of Sheridan’s reach to score Angel City’s first-ever club goal.

Minutes later, Press had another shot that was saved to keep San Diego in the mix. In the 81st minute, Wave’s Kaleigh Riehl scored her first goal in the NWSL and the club’s first goal.

The game ended in a hard-fought 1-1, sharing points between the teams.

Houston Dash vs Chicago Red Stars

Embed from Getty Images

For the final game of the opening weekend, the Dash faced the Red Stars in a hard-fought battle. Mexican national team star Maria Sanchez started for the Dash and Yuki Nagasato was back for the Red Stars after spending a season with Racing Louisville.

Alyssa Naeher returned from injury to put on an excellent performance for Chicago.

In the 19th minute, Houston’s Katie Naughton sent a right-footed shot to the bottom right corner for the first goal of the game. After the goal, Chicago gained leverage with many shots by Mal Pugh to dominate control.

In the 27th minute, Pugh opened the scoring for the Red Stars shooting the ball in the bottom right corner out of Jane Campbell’s reach.

After halftime, Houston’s Sophie Schmidt conceded a penalty which was then scored by Arin Wright, putting the Red Stars up 2-1. Two minutes later, Pugh struck a ball from outside the box catching Campbell off her line, increasing the score to 3-1.

What’s Next:

The Challenge Cup resumes on Friday, March 25th. For viewers in the United States, it will be available on Paramount+ and for international viewers, games will be streamed on NWSL’s Twitch channel.

MORE from Her Football Hub: