NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: Matchday 1

In the opening match of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, Portland Thorns FC will take on the two-time defending champions North Carolina Courage at 12:30 PM ET (9:30 AM PT) today. Following that match, Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit square off at 10 PM ET (7 PM PT). The opening match is available on CBS while the nightcap will be live on CBS All-Access.

North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns FC

The league knew what they were doing with this match kicking off the tournament. On one side, Portland has only finished below third in the regular season once in their seven seasons and won two NWSL titles. Opposite them, North Carolina has won the NWSL Shield in all three seasons since relocating from Western New York. They won the championship the past two seasons, including over Portland in 2018. While North Carolina has all of their USWNT players available and little roster turnover from last season, Thorns FC will be without Tobin Heath, who opted out, and Britt Eckerstrom will likely replace an injured Adrianna Franch between the sticks.

2019 Head-to-Head Results

6/15/19: Thorns FC 1, Courage 1

The Courage tripled Portland’s seven shots and had a ridiculous 37 corner kicks. Unfortunately, they could only put six of their 21 shots on frame and only one in the back of the net. This would be the last match at home that North Carolina didn’t win last season.

8/11/19: Thorns FC 2, Courage 1

Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was the star of the show. After allowing the early goal to Dunn, she kept North Carolina out of the net, finishing with ten saves. Two own goals by North Carolina gave Portland the 2-1 home win.

9/11/19: Courage 6, Thorns FC 0

With two close fixtures earlier in the season, this one was anything but competitive. North Carolina went on the road to the toughest atmosphere in the league and had a 3-0 lead by the 25-minute mark. Lynn Williams scored a hat trick and Debinha tallied three assists to go with a goal.

Player to Watch

North Carolina

Debinha: One of, if not the best, playmakers in the league, the Brazilian is coming off an MVP award in the Courage’s NWSL Championship win and 51 key passes in the regular season.


Christine Sinclair: Outside of Lynn Williams, she’s scored the most goals in the league over the past three seasons. The all-time leader in international goals will definitely be the key for Portland as the tournament gets started.

Injury Report

North Carolina

OUT: Merritt Mathias, Jessica McDonald


OUT: Adrianna Franch, Katherine Reynolds, Sophia Smith

Chicago Red Stars vs. Washington Spirit

For Chicago, this tournament will be about adjusting without NWSL’s all-time leading scorer (and 2019 Golden Boot winner) Sam Kerr, who left for Chelsea. Kealia Watt (Ohai) is a new addition to the club that should help make up for some of the goals they lost with Kerr. On the Spirit side, they have a talented but young team with players like Rose Lavelle, Sam Staab, Jordan DiBiasi expected to play key roles. Ashley Hatch, the club’s leading scorer, and Aubrey Bledsoe, 2019 Goalkeeper of the Year, will hold down opposite ends of the pitch for Washington.

2019 Head-to-Head results

5/26/19: Spirit 2, Red Stars 0

Playing at home, Chicago doubled Washington in shots and shots on goal, but they couldn’t beat Aubrey Bledsoe, who made seven saves on the night. An early own goal and Ashley Hatch’s second-half score were enough for a Spirit away win.

8/10/19: Red Stars 1, Spirit 0

A header from Yuki Nagasato was the difference-maker for the Red Stars on the road. They controlled possession and held an edge on shots again, but it took until Casey Short’s gorgeous cross to Nagasato for them to break through and finish with a clean-sheet win.

9/21:19: Red Stars 3, Spirit 1

This win clinched a playoff spot for Chicago and also saw Sam Kerr break her own NWSL single-season goal record with a brace in this one. Nagasato added a goal and an assist.

Player to Watch


Yuki Nagasato: Last season, she led the NWSL in assists, but it will be interesting to see if she can put up similar numbers in the attack without playing next to the departed Sam Kerr.


Rose Lavelle: Now that’s healthy and rested after the World Cup (where she won the Bronze Ball) and injuries in 2019, Lavelle will be heavily relied on to create offense from the Spirit midfield.

Injury Report


OUT: Tierna Davidson, Alyssa Mautz, Arin Wright

QUESTIONABLE: Danielle Colaprico, Zoe Redei


OUT: Crystal Thomas

QUESTIONABLE: Jaye Boissiere, Brooke Hendrix


Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.