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Houston Dash Secures NWSL Challenge Cup Championship (Plus Top Moments Of The Tournament)

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Yesterday, July 26, the Houston Dash defeated the Chicago Red Stars in a 2-0 match, giving the Club its first-ever NWSL title. Among an exciting victory for the Dash, the entirety of the Challenge Cup is something that is a first of its kind and has held prominence in the recent uncertainties of 2020. 

As the first team sport back on the pitch to compete during this year’s Coronavirus Pandemic, the NWSL Challenge Cup proved to be a monumental aspect of this summer’s adverse events. Amidst both global health concerns and a continued fight for social justice, players banded together to not only play for a trophy, but also something on a wider scale, making this tournament integral in today’s climate.



Among the changes on the field, such as face masks, missing USWNT members due to personal-removal from the tournament, the absence of Orlando Pride, and kneeling in the name of equality, one thing remained the same: athletes ready to compete and claim the championship title—a first to be won during a worldwide shut down.

Starting with pool play, each of the eight participating NWSL teams competed in four preliminary matches. From there, the standings were Houston Dash vs. Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars vs. Sky Blue FC in the semi-finals. Following those matches, the Dash took on the Red Stars in yesterday’s Challenge Cup Final.

Going into the Final, both Houston and Chicago stepped onto the field having never won a title of any kind in the NWSL prior. While both teams sought their first championship, the underdog presumed to be the Dash, a club without any USWNT members or championships in the League.

Continuing to play with a chip on its shoulder, similar to its demeanor the entirety of the tournament, Houston started the game up 1-0 thanks to a PK by Sophie Schmidt in the first five minutes of the competition. Chicago battled, but Houston proceeded to defend well and kept the Red Stars at bay through the remaining 90 minutes of the match and into extra time. Then, in the 91st minute of the game, Rachel Daly played a through ball threading Chicago’s back line, allowing Shea Groom to take a touch around Alyssa Naeher and send Dash’s second ball into the back of the net, securing the Texan club’s first-ever championship title. Along with a tournament victory, English National Team star and Houston Dash forward, Daly, also received the tournament MVP title and Golden Boot Award. 

Though a short run for the competing teams, this tournament has brought home-ridden fans the excitement, joy, and energy 2020 desperately needs. Therefore, why not take a look back down memory lane and dive into some of the moments and players who have made the past month one for the books.


Lynn Williams doing what Lynn Williams does: dominating. A powerful goal to give North Carolina Courage their second win of the tournament in the qualification round.





Talk about flawless execution. Houston Dash pulls out its footy skills in this beautiful build-up resulting in a goal from Kristie Mewis and a Dash win over OL Reign in its second game of the qualification round.



The Great Horan’s diving header off of Meghan Klingenberg’s free kick outside the box to put Portland on the scoreboard. The qualification match ended in a tie, but the Thorns deserve some brownie points for this goal.



 

Let us never forget this Washington Spirit corner that’s any player’s dream trick play. A corner by Dorian Bailey. The flick to keep the ball inbounds by stand-out rookie and Future Legend Award winner, Ashley Sanchez. And then the header by Paige Nielson to score and put Washington on the scoreboard.


Casey Short scoring a beastly game-winning goal for the Chicago Red Stars in the final six minutes of its final qualification match against the Utah Royals.


Portland Thorn's rookie, Morgan Weaver, scoring the game-winning goal in her quarterfinal match against the reigning NWSL back-to-back champs, North Carolina Courage.


Making her tournament debut, Britt Eckerstrom has proven to be a big asset to the Portland Thorn’s defense. Throughout the month, Eckerstrom has commanded her box and led her team, allowing the Thorns to excel to the semi-finals.


 

Sky Blue FC’s goalie, Kailen Sheridan, coming up big with a game-winning save against the Washington Spirit. With the match ending in zeros, Sky Blue FC went on to win the game in PK’s, advancing to the semi-finals.



Talk about a spider monkey keeper, Chicago Red Stars and USWNT goalie Alyssa Naeher stretches across the goal line to keep the quarterfinal match against OL Reign at zeros. Chicago ended up advancing to the semi-finals after defeating the Reign in PK’s.



And finally, Houston Dash’s second goal in the final match of the tournament to clutch its first-ever NWSL title and the Challenge Cup Championship. A perfectly threaded ball by Rachel Daly to break Chicago’s defense allowing Shea Groom to touch pass Alyssa Naeher and claim the Club’s victory. 

Though just 10 of the many stand-out moments and players of the Challenge Cup, it’s safe to say the past month of soccer has been an exciting and eventful endeavor for both players and fans alike. The tournament ended with an underdog victory, zero positive Covid-19 tests of the 2,000+ performed throughout the tournament, and an apparent cry for unity amidst the current social events. Not to mention the announcement of the NWSL coming back to Angel City after taking a 10-year hiatus. 

I know I’m not alone by saying this past month has been a memorable one on the pitch and I can’t wait to see what comes next for the NWSL.

_____________________

About the contributor: JESSY HOLEN

"Hello! My name is Jessy Holen and I’m an alumni women’s soccer player for Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Since graduating in 2019 I have moved back home to Los Angeles in order to pursue my dream of becoming a talk show host. In my free time I love anything outdoors like camping, biking, the beach, and of course...soccer! "

Comments

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