NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: Matchday 2

After the NWSL Challenge Cup action got underway over the weekend, we have arrived on Matchday 2 as the Houston Dash will face the hosting Utah Royals FC at 12:30 ET (9:30 PT), followed by OL Reign vs. Sky Blue FC at 10 PM ET (7 PM PT).

Houston Dash vs. Utah Royals FC

The tournament hosts will finally kick off their NWSL Challenge Cup run in the early game tomorrow vs. Houston. Utah will be without star Christen Press, who opted out of the tournament, but the addition of Tziarra King out of NC State will be a boost. The absences of Kelley O’Hara (left quad) and Desiree Scott (personal) will hurt as well.

The Dash will be looking to utilize newfound depth and an improved defense to continue an upward trend from the end of last season. While there were key additions to the backline, Houston will be adjusting to life without Kealia Watt (Ohai) and Sofia Huerta on the frontline.

2019 Head-to-Head Results

5/11/19: Houston Dash 2, Utah Royals FC 1

Houston ended Utah’s three-match winning streak to start the season. This match was all about the good and bad of Dash star Rachel Daly. The England international scored two unanswered goals to push the Dash into the lead and then was sent off in the 90th minute after an elbow to the face of a Royals player earned her a straight red card.

9/13/19: Houston Dash 2, Utah Royals FC 1

Sofia Huerta scored a brace for Houston and also hit the crossbar on a cross in the Dash home win over Utah. Gunny Jonsdotir pulled a goal back late for the visitors. Utah controlled more possession and finished with more shots and shots on target but couldn’t steal points away.

10/12/19: Utah Royals 2, Houston Dash 1

Utah jumped on the Dash early as Christen Press scored in the 3rd minute, off an assist from now-Dash forward Katie Stengel. Amy Rodriguez provided the other score for the Royals in the 23rd minute before Kristen Mewis scored a 78th-minute goal, the last tally of Houston’s regular season.

Player to Watch

Houston

Rachel Daly: She’s the star of the attack for Houston and without Watt and Huerta, she will be expected to do even more, along with newcomers Shea Groom and Katie Stengel.

Utah

Vero Boquete: In three matches vs. the Dash in 2019, the Spanish legend had 193 touches, seven key passes, and two assists. She will serve as the pace-setting for Utah as the hosts kick off their tournament.

Injury Report

Houston

OUT: Nichelle Prince (personal)

Utah

OUT: Kelley O’Hara, Mallory Weber, Desiree Scott (personal), Aminata Diallo (international quarantine)

OL Reign vs. Sky Blue FC

The club formerly known as Reign FC take on Sky Blue FC in the Tuesday nightcap. After taking North Carolina to added extra time in the 2019 semifinals, OL Reign will return to action without Ballon d’Or winner Megan Rapinoe, who opted out of the NWSL Challenge Cup.

Sky Blue FC are missing two USWNT stars of their own in Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh, but yesterday, Midge Purce responded to my question about there being more pressure on the rest of the players.

2019 Head-to-Head Results

5/18/19: Reign 2, Sky Blue 1

After two early goals canceled each other out, Jodie Taylor scored the match-winner in the 78th minute. With a one-goal lead, Reign FC had to rely on midfielder Morgan Andrews to step into goal for the final minutes as goalkeeper Michelle Betos was injured in stoppage time with all three substitutions already made.

8/18/19: Sky Blue 1, Reign 1

In front of a big crowd at Sky Blue FC’s Red Bull Arena debut, the clubs had to split the points in a 1-1 draw. Reign FC doubled Sky Blue in shots and shots on goal and held over 60% possession. But, Kailen Sheridan made five saves to hold the visitors to one goal. Elizabeth Eddy and Jodie Taylor provided the goals.

9/21/19: Sky Blue 1, Reign 0

Playing at home down the stretch, Reign FC had 23 shots and 58% possession against Sky Blue FC. But, they only put four of those shots on frame and couldn’t beat Sheridan. To make it worse for the Reign, Carli Lloyd found the net in the 77th minute to secure an upset win for Sky Blue FC, their only victory in the final five matches of 2019.

Player to Watch

Reign

Bethany Balcer: After a surprise 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year campaign, expectations will be higher for OL Reign’s young forward. She scored six goals last season with only one coming away from Tacoma.

Sky Blue

Midge Purce: She scored eight goals last season for Portland and was a major trade acquisition this offseason for Sky Blue. Without Lloyd and Pugh, she’s the one to watch going forward.

Injury Report

Reign

OUT: Jess Fishlock

Sky Blue

Only players already listed as out for the tournament (Dydasco, Lloyd, Pugh, Tiernan) aren’t available due to injury.

Author

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.