NWSL Challenge Cup is BACK!
Houston vs Chicago!
Friends and fellow NWSL fans, the electrifying Challenge Cup is BACK for its’ second run. After the inaugural Challenge Cup was played completely in the Utah soccer bubble last summer, it has made a return with a few format modifications and will act as a precursor for the 2021 regular season. Oh yeah, did I mention that the 2020 Challenge Cup was the FIRST return of any form of professional sports in the United States amidst the COVID-19 pandemic? Just want to throw in that fact at any point possible. If you forgot how the 2020 Challenge Cup ended, let me catch you up…
In simple terms, the Houston Dash took home the win. After a slow start in group play, the Dash really began to come into their own sparked by outstanding play from Kristi Mewis, Rachel Daly, and Shea Groom. Also, side note: Dash- I am down to get beers with you guys any time. Possibly after your next major win? Let me know.
Flash forward to April 2021…I think Aly Wagner said it best last night “Everything is popping right now in the NWSL.” The offseason has been nothing but boring with some big trades, new teams, club rebranding, and some pretty cool sponsors to help further gain recognition for this powerful league. Tik Tok as a jersey sponsor for the Portland Thorns?! Very cool, very hip. Also, don’t even get me started on the BEAUTIFUL jersey drops. I must get my hands on all of them.
The 2021 Challenge Cup was kicked off with a rematch from the final from last year: Houston Dash vs Chicago Red Stars. Both sides looked a little different from their match last year; missing players due to the current international window and a few trades/ loans. However, this allowed for both teams to start players they would not necessarily always do and give those players an opportunity to make a name for themselves. In fact, both Chicago and Houston started goalies who made their NWSL debut; Cassie Miller and Lindsey Harris respectively. Though the makeup of the teams may have looked a little different, the biggest change about this Challenge Cup compared to the last is that there are FANS! Nothing better than being able to support your team in their stadium, and nothing better for the players to feel the effect of their support (even if it is a small percentage of the capacity).
Before the match began the Dash raised their 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Champions banner. A beautiful sight over their home BBVA Stadium. Both teams were looking to begin the game and their Challenge Cup with a bang, but neither side seemed to be able to find a rhythm as the first half went on. The Red Stars had the advantage in shots in the first half and appeared to have somewhat of a more promising attack, or at least plan of attack. The halftime whistle came along leaving the fans and viewers with a less than optimal opening to the promised high-powered rematch. Starting quick was something both teams wanted, but nerves/ first game jitters proved to get the better of both teams. As the second half went on the players seemed to calm down a bit more and open up their play. The Dash and Red Stars both created more opportunities for themselves, there was even a goal!... Okay, Latsko (Houston) ended up getting called offside, but it was a great through ball and finish, we will just ignore the leg that was stretched behind the last Chicago defender.
At the end of the day maybe this game did not live up to the hype, but it was a solid opening to what should be a fun 21 game tournament. If the very first game was top notch how is every other game supposed to top it? Got to start somewhere people! Personally, after seeing how the second game of the night, Portland Thorns vs KC, turned out I think it was fully appropriate and fitting that the Houston and Chicago game was a calm slow start. LIKE FOUR RED CARDS HOLY WHAT…In other news, I am now purchasing Paramount+ because I cannot miss another game like that. This tournament is now being dubbed at “Chaos Cup” and, honestly, I love it. Bring on the excitement, this next month shall be fun!!
~MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR THE CHALLENGE CUP 2020 PLAYGROUND~
By Contributor: Jessica Doublesin. Jessica is from Dallas Texas. Her favorite teams to follow are the USWNT and Liverpool! Instagram: @jess_doub