NWSL Challenge Cup Recap: Matchday 8

NWSL Challenge Cup round-robin play concluded yesterday as the Cascadia Rivalry ended up in a scoreless draw before North Carolina made it a clean sweep of wins through the preliminary round.

OL Reign 0, Portland Thorns FC 0

With both clubs struggling for goals in this tournament, it was no surprise that this one ended with zeroes on the board. Portland controlled a majority of the action in their attacking half, but they struggled to break down the OL Reign defense. The absence of Lindsey Horan, who was listed as questionable with a hip injury before the match, definitely hindered the Thorns in that department.

The highlight of this match was the return of Jess Fishlock to the pitch for OL Reign. She made her NWSL Challenge Cup debut after a lengthy recovery from an ACL injury last season. Also returning from injury, Sofia Huerta made her Reign debut and made two key passes and added two shots.

Any time that there was a chance, it seemed to either roll just wide of the post or force a somewhat easy save for Michelle Betos or Bella Bixby.

Quick Kicks

  • Bethany Balcer had to substitute off in the second half for OL Reign and revealed on Twitter that she was having trouble breathing and had a panic attack. It’s commendable for such a young player to be open and honest about mental health on this big stage, hopefully she is good to go for the quarters.
  • After the match, Christine Sinclair was upbeat and confident about bottom-seeded Portland’s matchup in the quarterfinals vs. the 4-0 North Carolina Courage.
  • For OL Reign, they finished third on the table and will face Chicago Red Stars in a winnable knockout-round opener.

BGN Player of the Match: Morgan Weaver

The rookie was heavily involved in the attack for Thorns FC, registering two shots and three key passes.

North Carolina Courage 2, Sky Blue FC 0

Courage head coach Paul Riley had the choice of resting his key players with the top seed already clinched or trotting out a strong lineup to keep momentum going into the quarterfinals. He did the latter and his side completed the NWSL Challenge Cup preliminary round with four wins out of four matches.

Sam Mewis opened the scoring early when she smashed home a loose ball in the box following a corner kick. From there, the Courage put Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan under pressure, forcing some big saves.

In the second half, Crystal Dunn scored her first goal of the tournament, off an assist from Lynn Williams. Sky Blue held the advantage in possession, but they were outshot 17-9,

Quick Kicks

  • With lineup rotation, an abnormal NWSL schedule, and rust for the players, North Carolina Courage still managed to win all four of their matches. That is a testament to their deep, talented roster and a winning mindset from the players and the staff.
  • Sky Blue FC will take on Washington Spirit in the quarterfinals. They’ve shown positive flashes in recent matches and won’t be an easy out.

BGN Player of the Match: Crystal Dunn

She scored the insurance goal for North Carolina, one of two shots on goal, and completed 85.7% of her passes.

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.