The first Sunday action of the NWSL Challenge Cup features two intriguing matchups as the Chicago Red Stars and North Carolina Courage meet for a 2019 NWSL Championship Final rematch before Portland Thorns FC take on the Washington Spirit in the evening.
Chicago Red Stars (0-1-1) vs. North Carolina Courage (2-0-0)
This is a matchup between one club that has looked really good in this tournament and one which has not looked so good against the same two clubs. North Carolina has won both of their matches so far, against Portland and Washington Spirit, while Chicago lost to the Spirit and rotated all 11 players in a draw vs. Portland.
While it may not mean a ton because of the uniqueness of this season and roster turnover, Chicago won two matches and didn’t lose vs. North Carolina in the regular season, as you can see below.
2019 Head-to-Head results
4/13/19: North Carolina Courage 1, Chicago Red Stars 1
Star striker Sam Kerr scored the first goal of 2019 in the NWSL. That first-half score was wiped out by Crystal Dunn’s 66th-minute goal. Kerr also found a winner in stoppage time as her shot hit the crossbar and somehow didn’t end up in the net.
5/12/19: Chicago Red Stars 3, North Carolina Courage 1
For the first time in almost a year, North Carolina ended an NWSL match as the losing side. Kerr provided the opening goal and the insurance goal for Chicago with a Michele Vasconcelos score sandwiched in between. Lynn Williams scored for the Courage.
7/21/19: Chicago Red Stars 2, North Carolina Courage 1
Williams struck first, putting North Carolina up in the 30th minute. But, the Red Stars got unanswered goals from Vanessa DiBernardo and Kerr to defeat the reigning champions for a second straight time.
10/27/19 (NWSL Championship Final): North Carolina Courage 4, Chicago Red Stars 0
North Carolina jumped on Chicago early as Debinha scored in the 4th minute. Jessica McDonald and Dunn added first-half goals and Sam Mewis scored in the second half for good measure as the Courage secured their back-to-back NWSL titles.
Player to Watch
Kealia Watt: In her debut for Chicago, Watt’s impact was limited vs. Washington and she didn’t appear vs. Portland. She will need to be more aggressive cutting in and firing shots or finding the runners into the box from her wide position.
Debinha: Despite three goals from Lynn Williams, I’d contest that the Brazilian star has been the best player in the tournament. She is a true gamechanger and could find similar success vs. Chicago’s defense that Rose Lavelle did in the opening matchup.
OUT: Mautz, Wright
QUESTIONABLE: Colaprico, Davidson, Redei
Portland Thorns FC (0-1-1) vs. Washington Spirit (1-1-0)
Both clubs have lost to North Carolina, but they had different results vs. Chicago (a 2-1 win for Washington and a 0-0 draw for Portland). The Thorns couldn’t find the goal against a completely rotated starting lineup from Chicago and are still looking for their first victory of the tournament.
Washington will look to regroup after an exhausting, disappointing loss vs. the Courage and we could see some squad rotation from Richie Burke.
2019 Head-to-Head results
5/18/19: Washington Spirit 3, Portland Thorns FC 1
The Spirit ended Portland’s four-match unbeaten start to the season. Ashley Hatch opened the scoring before an own goal by the Thorns put Washington up 2-0. Caitlin Foord pulled one back before Jordan DiBiasi scored an Olimpico to put things on ice.
8/17/19: Portland Thorns FC 3, Washington Spirit 1
Hayley Raso and Emily Sonnett had the Thorns up 2-0 before the 20-minute mark. Christine Sinclair added a third goal in the second half and Andi Sullivan scored for Washington.
10/12/19: Portland Thorns FC 0, Washington Spirit 0
After eight goals were scored in their first two matchups, neither club could even find one goal in the regular season finale. Washington only registered five shots while Portland couldn’t convert any of its 21 efforts.
Player to Watch
Bella Bixby: The Thorns goalkeeper will need to stay sharp against Washington. Ashley Hatch has already forced a goalkeeper into one mistake leading to a goal, so Bixby must be composed on the ball and will likely be called upon to make a big save or two.
Andi Sullivan: The midfield battle will be key against the Lindsey Horan-led Thorns and Sullivan will be expected to play a major role in limiting Horan’s impact and push the ball forward with her passing.
OUT: Franch, Sauerbrunn, Smith