This week’s NWSL Challenge Cup action brought many ties, Gotham’s victory over the east and a disappointing response from the Houston investigation.
Orlando holds off North Carolina
In a surprising result for both teams, the Orlando Pride held the NC Courage to a 1-1 draw last Saturday, May 1. In what many fans expected to be a high scoring game, the defenses on both sides stepped up to keep clean sheets.
New Zealand international and former Cardinal Ali Riley ’10 has become a crucial part of the Orlando back line, leading them to a clean sheet despite the absence of USWNT international Ali Krieger. Riley looked composed throughout the game despite the pressure from a typically high-scoring and high-pressing Courage offense.
The match played out with a few major opportunities on both ends of the pitch. In the 18th minute, Courage keeper Casey Murphy made a fingertip save to keep her team alive early. Again in the 54th, Murphy stepped up to cut off Sydney Leroux who slipped past both defenders after a ball in from Alex Morgan. Like many keepers around the league, Murphy has shown her abilities and is a strong contender for the second or third goalkeeping positions with the USWNT.
The game concluded with both teams taking away a single point. The Courage had a total of 19 shots and held possession 61% of the time, whereas Orlando had a mere 9 shots. Although not a win, Orlando can be happy to have not fallen to one of the historically best teams in the league.
Gotham paves their way to the championship while Louisville puts up another promising performance
Although the game ended in another 0-0 draw, both Gotham and Louisville could walk away happy on Sunday. With the draw, and a Saturday draw from the NC Courage, Gotham sealed their path to the championship. For Louisville, their strong performance and ability to compete against a well-established Gotham side was hope for the successful inaugural season.
Neither side had any former Cardinal on the pitch, but there was one shining star. Louisville keeper Michelle Betos had four saves on the night with a stunning save in the 62nd minute that would be the deciding factor in the tied outcome. Betos is a well-established keeper in the NWSL, previously playing for both the Portland Thorns and OL Reign, and is another example of why some argue the NWSL has the best keepers in the world.
Houston and Portland battle to another weekend draw
During the last fixture of the weekend, the Portland Thorns took on reigning NWSL Challenge Cup champions the Houston Dash. With both squads at full strength, the matchup was expected to be intense. Each side featured a single former Cardinal: The Dash starting Jane Campbell ’17 in goal, and the Thorns started Sophia Smith ’22 up top.
In the 26th minute, Campbell made an early save to keep her side alive, increasing the momentum of an already hungry Houston side. Later, in the 45th minute, an incredible build up allowed Shea Groom to slot one in for the Dash. The Dash led 1-0 at the half.
In the 60th minute, Campbell made another incredible save, keeping the hopes alive for a Dash upset. However, Canadian international and the most internationally capped player in the world, Christine Sinclaire, put in a goal in the 76th minute to give Portland a late equalizer.
The match would end 1-1 with disappointment on the Houston side for giving up a clean sheet. Regardless of the outcome, Portland had clinched their spot in the championship match and will play Gotham this coming weekend.
Reign rack in a second win, this time without Rapinoe
On Monday, May 3, OL Reign defeated Kansas City narrowly 2-1. OL Reign were still missing Sam Hiatt ’20, who is out with a lasting head injury. Additionally, international superstar Megan Rapinoe was ruled out with a back injury, a huge loss for the Reign. KC featured former Cardinal Lo’eau Labonta ’15, who has quickly become a face of the team.
The action started early with a sixth minute goal from Mallory Weber, putting KC up 1-0. In the 34th minute, Welsh international Jess Fishlock answered back, putting the score 1-1 going into the half. Fishlock, in the absence of Rapinoe, was tasked with taking the penalty kick and sunk it in for her team.
The beginning of the second half was relatively quiet, and fans soon began to anticipate yet another tie. However, Reign defender Celia Jimerez Delgado came flying out of the back to put in an incredible header in the 84th minute.
The game would end 2-1 with a Reign victory and a devastating loss for KC. This match would mark a second straight win for OL and gives them great momentum as they head into the regular season.
Sam Mewis may come back to the NWSL after her last two matches with Manchester City
It was reported this past week that USWNT star and Manchester City midfielder Sam Mewis would be returning to the NWSL to play for NC Courage. Mewis left the Courage in the early months of quarantine in search of consistent playing time. She has since dominated the FA WSL, helping her team battle for first in the table. Mewis reportedly plans to stay with City until the conclusion of the season.
No word is out yet on her American teammates from Manchester City, Rose Lavelle and Abby Dalhkemper, and what their plans before the Olympics will be.
League implements disciplinary action against Houston after racial incident
In the first match of the challenge cup, Chicago Red Star Sarah Gorden came forward, speaking on how her family and boyfriend were racially profiled and were threatened with arrest after trying to see her post-match. About a week later, the league opened an investigation into the situation.
This past week, the league released the findings of that investigation, stating: “Following multiple interviews with witnesses and a review of the venue security footage, the investigation was closed. Based on the findings of the independent investigator, no disciplinary action will be taken against the club.”
Fans immediately spoke out in outrage over the findings, accusing the league of not supporting their Black players and creating unsafe working environments. The full league statement can be found here.
Gotham takes on Portland in the final
This Saturday, May 8 at 1:00 p.m. ET, Gotham FC will take on the Portland Thorns in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup final. The final will be set on the best stage in the NWSL as Portland hosts Gotham and Providence Park will be partially open to fans.
Favored to win are the Thorns, but many warn against underestimating Gotham. The re-branded team has a new fire under their feet and could pose a real threat to the Portland side. Both teams will be coming in with a star-studded offense, lined with international stars. The Thorns however, seem to have the stronger defense. If Gotham is unable to break down their backline, fans could be watching another low scoring game. With a strong Portland defense, their offense would only need to put in a goal or two to come out on top.
The match will be broadcasted on CBS this weekend.