The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup came to an end yesterday as the Houston Dash took home the title with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars. It was a fun, month-long journey as the first team sports league to return got to perform on a CBS/CBS All-Access stage, live from the bubble in Utah. Now that the action is done, let’s take a look back at some of the things that stood out the most.
When looking at the overall health of any sports league, the next generation of stars is vastly important for sustainable success. With that being said, the NWSL is in good hands with some of the talented 2020 rookie class.
Ashley Sanchez won the vote for the Future Legend award this summer and she was exceptional. She drove at defenders, was fearless on the ball, and provided the assist of the tournament. While she earned my vote, players like Morgan Weaver, whose goal eliminated the juggernaut North Carolina Courage, or Tziarra King, who equalized for Utah Royals FC in their opening match, or Addisyn Merrick, who was the primary starter at right-back for North Carolina, all were deserving of high praise.
With some of the league’s biggest stars getting older, the next wave of talent will be fun to watch as they sharpen their skills and eventually take over the NWSL.
An Abundance of Great Goalkeepers
While the goalscorers often get the attention, the NWSL goalkeepers turned in some amazing performances throughout the tournament. Kailen Sheridan rightfully took home the Golden Gloves award and should have been in the Best XI (the fan vote likely played a massive part in her omission because the media didn’t have Britt Eckerstrom in the top three for the Golden Gloves).
Speaking of Eckerstrom, she stepped in for Bella Bixby, who had a breakout tournament herself before a knee injury, and made massive stops in Portland’s win over North Carolina. Jane Campbell stepped up when needed for the champs and Aubrey Bledsoe often showcased why she was the 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year.
Knockout Stage Parity
Single-elimination play in any tournament allows for upsets. But, during an unusual summer with a lack of a full season build-up, it was impossible to predict the knockout stage of the NWSL Challenge Cup. After running through the preliminary round, North Carolina was bounced by Portland Thorns FC. There were multiple matches that required penalty kicks to decide a winner and a match between two clubs that struggled to score for most of the tournament (Chicago vs. Sky Blue) ended up 3-2.
That uncertainty would definitely give you some anxious moments as a bettor, but as a neutral fan, that’s exactly what you want to see.
- The national anthem situation was an annoying storyline early on as it was non-soccer related but necessary to cover. It took a lot of focus on the great soccer being played and in my opinion, they should’ve just stopped playing the song. But, that’s a discussion for a different day and I’m glad the headlines about the NWSL players choices regarding the situation faded.
- Shoutout to the Dash for getting the title and then celebrating like they deserved. I certainly didn’t expect them to win, but they played well and Rachel Daly did an amazing job leading James Clarkson’s squad.
- While the tournament would have benefitted from having USWNT stars like Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Brazilian legend Marta, it was a great stage for players outside of that realm to earn the attention of fans and pundits. Hopefully, if you watched the tournament, you found some new players to root for that you didn’t know before.