NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: Semifinals
After eight clubs started the NWSL Challenge Cup, we are down to the final four. The semifinals are set to kick off in a couple of hours and we preview both fixtures.
Houston Dash vs. Portland Thorns FC
(Today, 9:30 AM PT/12:30 PM ET, live on CBS All-Access)
The Dash enter the semifinals as the only higher seed that won in the quarterfinals. A penalty shootout win over Utah Royals FC pushed them through after a scoreless end to regulation.
They were able to pull the upset of the tournament as they ended North Carolina Courage’s NWSL reign with a 1-0 win, courtesy of Morgan Weaver’s first professional goal.
Last Time They Met
Portland Thorns FC 1, Houston Dash 0
Key to Success
Houston: Runs in behind.
Rachel Daly is one of the best in the business at making runs off the back shoulder of the opposing defense. Combining with Brianna Visalli and Nichelle Prince, the Dash will be at their best if they can put the pressure on Portland’s center-backs (minus Becky Sauerbrunn) and make them cut out through balls from Kristie Mewis and Shea Groom.
Portland: Dynamic out wide
The Thorns were able to score a late goal to surprise North Carolina, courtesy of Rocky Rodriguez getting to the endline and cutting it across to Morgan Weaver. For their matchup vs. Houston, they will need Rocky, Weaver, and Tyler Lussi to dribble at the Dash backline and spread them out. If they can do that, the odds will be better for Christine Sinclair and potentially Lindsey Horan to win headers in the area or to cut balls across like Rodriguez did vs. the Courage. Houston has allowed the most goals in the tournament and Portland will need to be clinical when the chances present themselves.
Player to Watch
Rachel Daly: As I mentioned above, Daly can wreak havoc when she’s getting in behind the backline. In the press availability this week, the English international explained her excitement to finally be playing in elimination action with the Dash and thinks her experience with the Three Lionesses can help in this big match.
Lindsey Horan: Portland head coach Mark Parsons said Horan’s availability will come down to the wire. In the early matches of the NWSL Challenge Cup, she was leading the Thorns in most statistical categories. If she can go vs. the Dash, she can help control the midfield and is always a dangerous target on set pieces.
QUESTIONABLE: Oyster (thorax)
OUT: Bixby (knee), Franch (knee), Reynolds (concussion), Sauerbrunn (hip), Smith (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Horan (hip), Klingenburg (hip)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Sky Blue FC
(Today, 7 PM PT/10 PM ET, live on CBS All-Access)
Playing against OL Reign, the best chance of regulation for either side fell to Kealia Watt. She dribbled her way into a great spot in front of goal but pushed the shot wide. The Red Stars converted all four of their penalties to advance to the semis.
Finishing 7th in the round-robin phase, they were able to sneak past the Washington Spirit, largely due to two saves by Kailen Sheridan. She stopped Ashley Sanchez’s close-range header in the first half and kept out Bayley Feist’s decisive penalty kick.
Last Time They Met
Chicago Red Stars 3, Sky Blue FC 0
Goals: Brian (Gautrat), Kerr, Nagasato
Key to Success
Chicago: More action in the center of the attack.
Obviously, there was an adjusted period expected with new players in the attack and the departure of Sam Kerr. But, there’s no presence in the middle of Chicago’s attacking group. Kealia Watt said they will stick to the current gameplan and Rachel Hill suggested that they need to be more aggressive with their chances. Without a central striker, you’re relying a lot on wing players to do it all rather than a central figure to be the attract the defense and get on the end of crosses.
Sky Blue: More urgency going forward
Entering the semifinals, SBFC sits last in shots and second-to-last in shots on target. They mostly control the action in the midfield with McCall Zerboni or passing it around on the backline. They rarely Against Chicago, they need to add just a little bit more urgency to their runs forward. Ifeoma Onumonu has good vision, pace, and skill on the ball. She can either run in behind to get on the end of a through ball or drive at defenders and set up a teammate as she did on Paige Monaghan’s goal vs. Houston. This will be a defensive battle and taking chances when they are there will be crucial.
Player to Watch
Kealia Watt: If there isn’t a plan to change the tactics, Watt may be Chicago’s best hope of pulling off something special. She has the speed and skill to cut in from the left wing and strike and create danger for the Red Stars.
Ifeoma Onumonu: The Sky Blue FC striker is still looking for her first goal of the tournament, but she’s been consistently their most active attacking player. Embracing the pressure of knockout soccer, she will definitely be involved if they can break through vs. Alyssa Naeher.
OUT: Davidson (leg), Gautrat (leg), Mautz (knee), Nagasato (leg), Stevens (leg), Wright (postpartum)
QUESTIONABLE: Colaprico (ankle), Redei (hip)
OUT: Dydasco (knee), Lloyd (knee), Pugh (hip), Tiernan (ankle), Wright (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Monaghan (knee)