The National Women’s Soccer League’s second annual Challenge Cup is coming to an end as three matches over the weekend created the stage for the upcoming Challenge Cup final. North Carolina, Orlando Pride and Gotham FC all came into the weekend with their tournament hopes still alive, while Racing Louisville FC, Houston Dash and the Portland Thorns closed their group games with nothing but pride. Here’s what you may have missed from three-game slate over the weekend.
1. Courage and pride close out with pyrrhic clean sheets
North Carolina Courage and Orlando Pride went into their final Challenge Cup group game with a chance to advance. However, they played to a pointless draw, which ultimately served both teams and eliminated them from contention over the Challenge Cup final against Portland Thorns FC.
Both sides will try to look at the little silver lining in a clean sheet as they now face forward and begin to prepare for the regular season. It is at least a minor victory for Courage, as they had previously fought on the defensive side of the ball and conceded 8 goals compared to their previous three games.
“We missed some huge chances. But the biggest take-away for me was a clean sheet,” Courage head coach Paul Riley said in the aftermath. We are stuck with the two central defenses for the full game and they really stepped up for us. They absorb space well and we have good protection up front with Hailie Mace and Denise O’Sullivan. Ryan Williams was also very good defensively and we knew we had a good grip when we got Merritt into the game, Carson Pickett was fabulous on the left side. “
Prior to this match, this tournament was a sharp difference for a Courage side that used to have a solid defense to go with their cable attacks, and the team will likely continue to improve things into the regular season as veteran center-back Abby Erceg works his way up back a back injury.
After 2020, Orlando Pride withdrew from the initial Challenge Cup due to a COVID outburst among players and staff, and the team can now hang their hats up to a third-place finish with five points in the Eastern Division. The club closed their Challenge Cup with a second row in a row after conceding three goals in their first two group matches.
2. Gotham FC wins east
In the 2021 Challenge Cup final, Gotham FC will be after the East Coast team ended their group game with a goalless result against Racing Louisville FC and advanced to the final on eight points. Gotham FC quickly got going in their tournament with two wins, including a senior affair on the 20th of July against North Carolina, which ended with seven goals and a 4-3 final score in Gotham’s favor. The team enters the final some snakebite in front of goal as they closed their Challenge Cup group stage with two consecutive pointless draws.
“We needed this result or better, so we are definitely hpy that we came away with a draw and that allows us to go into the championship,” assistant coach Becca Moros said in the aftermath.
“One big thing is consistency, and we’re going in the right direction. Some results can be misleading, so the biggest thing for us is to look at this with clearer eyes, review a movie, and see what we need to improve in order to prepare for Portland. “
3. Dash end Challenge Cup undefeated
2020 Cup Cup champion Houston Dash does not get a chance to defend their cup title, but closed their 2021 campaign undefeated after going 1-0-3 and finishing in second place in the West Division. The team welcomed their assigned players into the team and picked up their only Challenge Cup victory on the 26th ril against the Kansas City NWSL.
4. Portlands cup to lose.
Portland Thorns FC end their group stage with 10 points after finishing 3-0-1 in the West Division. The Pacific Northwest side locked their place in the final with a game left in the division, ultimately waiting for the results from the Eastern Division to decide who they would face.
The club closed out the group stage of the Challenge Cup undefeated with a 1-1 draw against Houston Dash and look forward to the championship final where they are likely to be considered favorites. A list full of talent with deoth from the bench and championship experience are among the key factors in their pursuit of more hardware in 2021.