NWSL Challenge Cup Recap: Quarterfinals

We are officially down to four clubs in the NWSL Challenge Cup as the quarterfinals are complete with limited scoring, some upsets, and a lot of penalty kicks.

Portland Thorns FC 1, North Carolina Courage 0

One club entered the match with four wins to their name in the preliminary round and the other had zero victories. But, none of that matters in elimination soccer. North Carolina Courage’s reign over the NWSL came to an end by way of Portland Thorns FC and goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.

The Courage played most of this match on the front foot and it seemed like they would continue their hot run in this tournament with some early chances for Lynn Williams. But, the longer the match stayed scoreless, the more of a chance it seemed for Portland to steal this one. Then, the moment struck as Rocky Rodriguez worked her way towards the endline and cut the ball across to Morgan Weaver, who tapped it home.

Down a goal, NCC pressed for an equalizer and their star Brazilian almost found it. A careless foul on the edge of the box gave Debinha a chance from a free kick, but Eckerstrom kept the ball out of the top corner.

Quick Kicks

  • Weaver, the rookie out of Washington State, had been good during the round-robin stage and finally broke through with the match-winner.
  • This match set the precedence for the rest of the quarterfinals, which including two other upsets.

BGN Player of the Match: Britt Eckerstrom

With Bella Bixby out with a knee injury, the veteran goalkeeper stepped up in a MASSIVE way. She made eight saves on the day, including a huge stop of Debinha’s late free kick.

Houston Dash 0 (3), Utah Royals FC 0 (2)

The Friday night action was choppy at best with 23 fouls and six yellow cards combined between the teams. Each side had one big chance in the first half.

In the second minute, Vero Boquete’s free-kick delivery from distance almost snuck in at the far post, but Jane Campbell tipped it away. On the other end, Nichelle Prince curled a shot off the post shortly before the half.

But, no winner could be decided in regulation as this one went into a rare penalty shootout in the NWSL. Campbell, who is the league’s best at stopping penalties, stepped up and helped push Houston through with a couple of big stops from the spot.

Quick Kicks

  • The officiating in this one was questionable and the match constantly was stopping and starting.

  • This was the first elimination match win for the Houston Dash, who haven’t made the playoffs since their inception into the NWSL.

BGN Player of the Match: Jane Campbell

A historically good goalkeeper when facing penalty kicks, Campbell was ready to send the Dash through to the semifinals. After making two saves in regulation, she stopped two shots from the spot.

Sky Blue FC 0 (4), Washington Spirit 0 (3)

As the two seed, the Spirit entered the match trying to avoid the same fate as North Carolina. In the first half, they almost gave themselves a boost as Tori Huster’s cross found Ashley Sanchez at the far post, but the rookie’s header was turned away with one hand by Kailen Sheridan.

Huster herself would get the best chance of the second half, but she couldn’t poke the ball past Sheridan.

This match would be decided by the 2019 co-saves leaders trying to stop shots from the penalty spot. Bayley Feist’s penalty would determine if the match would go to sudden death or give Sky Blue FC the victory and Sheridan was able to stop the shot.

Quick Kicks

  • Rose Lavelle being limited to 30 minutes by the USWNT was unfortunate for the Spirit, who could have used more time from her, and just an odd situation overall.
  • While the Spirit were looking like a surprise contender to win the NWSL Challenge Cup title, it is Sky Blue FC that advance with a chance to win and reach the final.

BGN Player of the Match: Kailen Sheridan

She stopped Sanchez’s first-half header and caught Feist’s penalty attempt to officially advance Sky Blue FC to the semifinals.

Chicago Red Stars 0 (4), OL Reign 0 (3)

With two sides that struggled for goals in the preliminary round, it was not a shock that this one ended up scoreless. But, this match actually had some solid open play throughout and each side had some quality chances.

Kealia Watt danced into the area in the second half and somehow pushed her shot wide. Jodie Taylor and Sofia Huerta couldn’t beat Alyssa Naeher.

To close out the quarterfinals, we had another match go to PKs. Chicago stepped up to the spot and buried all four of their penalties and OL Reign looked uneasy and missed two shots to end their tournament run.

Quick Kicks

  • After the match, Watt answered my question about possibly needing to change the gameplan to get more bodies into the box and she thinks they need to stick to the current plan.
  • Another defensive battle is certainly on the way as Chicago will face Sky Blue FC in the semifinals.

BGN Player of the Match: Alyssa Naeher

A clean sweep for goalkeepers winning the BGN Player of the Match in the quarters as Naeher made some key stops to keep OL Reign off the board in regulation.

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.