NWSL Challenge Cup Recap: Matchday 3

After there were 12 goals scored in the first three matches of the NWSL Challenge Cup, we had a back-to-back run of scoreless draws before North Carolina Courage broke that streak last night. We take a look at both matches on Matchday 3.

Portland Thorns FC 0, Chicago Red Stars 0

There weren’t any goals scored in this one, but it was probably the most physical match of the tournament so far. It also saw the epitome of rotating your lineup.¬†After their opening loss, Chicago played an entirely different starting lineup vs. Portland. Not only did he not start any of them, but Red Stars head coach Rory Dames didn’t even use any of their stars (Ertz, Watt, Short, Gautrat) off the bench.

That could explain the zero on the scoreline for Chicago, but it makes it even more frustrating for Thorns FC. Portland finished with 16 shots and just under 60% possession with nothing to show for it. Rookie Morgan Weaver had a shot saved by Emily Boyd at close-range.

Chicago didn’t put any shots on target, but they had a few efforts go narrowly wide of the post or just over the crossbar. Savannah McCaskill had three shots of their five shots, including a decent effort from a free kick.

One of the closest chances for Portland came in stoppage time as Autumn Smithers’ shot from distance was deflected and ended up hitting the crossbar.

Quick Kicks

  • After facing off in the 2019 NWSL semifinals, both of these clubs sit winless after two matches and neither has looked exceptional.
  • Getting her first start, Weaver looked good and should play a key role for Portland during the tournament, especially without Tobin Heath and as Sophia Smith recovers from injury.
  • For Chicago, the decision to make 11 changes in the starting lineup and rest the starters paid off for the most part. They took a point from one of the league’s better clubs without using their best players and will now enter a showdown with powerhouse North Carolina with fresh legs.

BGN’s Player of the Match: Lindsey Horan

She couldn’t break through for Portland, but she did put one of their three shots on target. The Thorns midfielder completed 27/29 passes, won two fouls, and made two tackles. With the club underperforming so far, it may be up to Horan to put the team on her back in one of these matches.

North Carolina Courage 2, Washington Spirit 0

On the table and to the eye test, this match was a face-off between the top two sides in the NWSL Challenge Cup. But, North Carolina Courage reminded us that they are still a cut above the rest.

Debinha had a close call in the first half as her curling shot from the left side rang off the right post. The width of North Carolina going forward, especially with Jaelene Daniels, gave Washington trouble all night.

In the second half, Paul Riley went to his bench to add a trio of stars to the mix for the Courage. He brought on Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Denise O’Sullivan in one of the most talented triple substitutions you will ever see in the NWSL.

Shortly after the break, Lynn Williams put North Carolina on the board. She battled through a deflection and sliding challenge from Sam Staab and ran the ball into a ton of space down the right wing. The star striker cut into the box and beat Aubrey Bledsoe at the near post.

Williams wasn’t done and added a second goal just after the hour mark. Debinha floated a beautiful ball in front the right side and Williams poked the ball in at the far post to put North Carolina up 2-0.

Quick Kicks

  • Washington head coach Richie Burke said post-match that this loss will likely serve as a wake-up call for some of his younger players about the class of players in the NWSL and why North Carolina are deservedly the two-time reigning champs.
  • Rose Lavelle had some moments early, driving the ball forward, but her impact was limited by the Courage defense and probably some fatigue. Tori Huster mentioned that it was tough to catch their breath or communicate in the first half and that seemed to be amplified in the second half.
  • Talking post-match about how fun it is to play with Debinha, Lynn Williams described her as “on another level” and highlighted that she keeps the same energy throughout a match “almost playing with the defense.”

BGN’s Player of the Match: Lynn Williams

When goals needed to be scored, it was North Carolina’s number nine that delivered. Both goals highlighted different skillsets for Williams. The first goal was about her motor, chasing the ball down and pushing it forward, and having the skill and speed to turn a mistake on the backline into a goal. The second one was all about her movement off the ball and the natural ability to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net.

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.