NWSL Challenge Cup poised for historic finale
Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars to meet in NWSL Challenge Cup final
Kick-off: 12:30 EST/18:30 CET, Sunday 26 July
Both teams after first NWSL trophies in club history
The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) was the first team sports league in the USA to resume play since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it is set to see more history made as Houston Dash get set to face Chicago Red Stars in the Challenge Cup final this Sunday.
It will be more familiar territory for Red Stars, who were in last year's NWSL Championship. They were beaten emphatically by North Carolina Courage 4-0, however, so this represents a chance to put things right just a year later.
For Houston, this is brand new territory. In the club's six previous seasons, they failed to qualify for the play-offs, yet alone make a final of any kind.
Rio Tinto Stadium, home of Utah Royals and RSL of MLS in Sandy, Utah will host the showdown.
A major theme of the Challenge Cup has been outstanding goalkeeping displays. Britt Eckerstrom's eight-save performance for the Portland Thorns in their 1-0 win against the Courage in the quarter-finals had social media abuzz. Incredibly, the quarter-finals continued with three goalless draws and subsequent penalties, where goalkeepers continued to be key players in the fate of each team.
To continue with that theme, Sunday's final will fittingly feature two outstanding keepers. Experienced USA women's national team keeper Alyssa Naeher, 32, will be between the sticks for Chicago, while 25-year-old Jane Campbell, who has been on the periphery of being the USWNT No1, has been a Dash player for her entire professional club career.
Players to watch
While many fans will be familiar with USWNT stand-outs Naeher and Julie Ertz of the Red Stars, as well as Lionesses forward and inspirational Dash captain Rachel Daly, there have been several players on each side who have shone brightly throughout the tournament and were instrumental in getting their clubs to the final.
Dash midfielder Shea Groom, who has scored two goals so far, showed her brilliance and awareness in setting up goals and finishing them. Canada international and long-time Dash forward Nichelle Prince and Kristie Mewis also form a crucial part of the Dash attack.
For the Red Stars, Bianca St. Georges, who scored the opening goal in their 3-2 semi-final win against Sky Blue, and Savannah McCaskill have both performed at a high level all tournament. Kealia Watt, who will be coming up against her former club for the first time and will be playing in the same stadium that she won her high school championship in, is a pivotal player on both sides of the ball for Rory Dames' squad.
Road to the final
3-3 D v Utah, 2-0 W v Reign, 2-0 L v Sky Blue, 1-0 L v Washington, Quarter-final: 0-0 (3-2 pens) v Utah, Semi-final: 1-0 W v Portland
Chicago Red Stars
2-1 L v Washington, 0-0 D v Portland, 1-0 L v North Carolina, 1-0 W v Utah, 0-0 (4-3 pens) v Reign, 3-2 W v Sky Blue
Where to watch
For fans based in the USA, the match will be televised on national television (CBS) at 12:30 EST. For international fans, the match will be available to stream on Twitch.
What they're saying
"We now have an opportunity to play in a final which is the first one for the franchise, and for many of the players it’s the first final they’ve been in since youth soccer. So, it is very exciting and hopefully we can play at a really high level and perform and show people what we’re capable of.”
James Clarkson, Houston Dash coach [CBS Local]
"It’s been very interesting because there's so many new faces. Losing Sam Kerr (transferred to Chelsea), you have to figure out how you want to play. It's been challenging with such little time but one thing we've always said about Rory and the Red Stars is that they always find ways to win. That sticks with the team no matter who’s here, just finding ways to win. At our best we’re difficult to beat. It goes to that mentality of digging in and doing whatever you have to do to win. The Dash have had an incredible tournament, but we're excited. This team was in the final last year. That’s a very sore subject for everyone. Everyone's still disappointed in that. We’re back for the second year in a row. We’re going to do everything in our power for that result not to happen again."
Kealia Watt [Men in Blazers]