NWSL Challenge Cup preview: Dash and Thorns the ones to beat


The long wait is over. The NWSL is back.

Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars will kick off the first game of 2021 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Apr. 9 in a rematch of the 2020 Challenge Cup final.

Portland Thorns FC and Kansas City will follow at 10:30 p.m. ET. Both games will be available on Twitch.

Each team plays four games before the tournament wraps up with the championship on May 8 at 1 p.m. ET.


The Houston Dash are the reigning Challenge Cup champions and were runners-up in the 2020 Fall Series. Keeping all their key players into the 2021 season, including Kristie Mewis, Shea Groom, Nichelle Prince and Jane Campbell, and signing standout stars Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt to multi-year contracts, the Dash’s strength is here to stay.

Strength, not dominance.

Once again, the Portland Thorns are dangerously stacked. While the team has endured a couple big changes to their roster, they’ll give their opponents a lot to fear with their new acquisitions, Crystal Dunn and Natalia Kuikka. The Fall Series champions lost three significant players in Tobin Heath leaving for England, and Britt Eckerstrom and Katherine Reynolds retiring, but Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Sophia Smith keep the expectations high.

North Carolina Courage was the favourite in last year’s Challenge Cup before they had an unlucky game against the Thorns that knocked them out of the tournament earlier than expected. In the four-game preliminary round they scored seven goals and only conceded two. After losing Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, the Courage might struggle to find the same level of power they had last season.

Teams that will be interesting to watch will be Racing Louisville FC, Washington Spirit and the Chicago Red Stars. Chicago has a lot of building to do with their young players after losing Yūki Nagasato and Savannah McCaskill to the new kids on the block, Racing Louisville FC.

Louisville likely won’t have a spectacular first year, but it’ll be interesting to see how they compete with the other teams.

Washington Spirit is the team most likely to surprise fans. They built some unexpected momentum last year, and this season, though they lost Rose Lavelle, have acquired new talent that might just be what they need to be some of the fiercest competitors in the 2021 Challenge Cup.


(Listed in predicted final order of standings)


2020 Record: 7-3-1

Players to Watch: Kristie Mewis, Nichelle Prince, Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt

Big Gains: Denisha Blackwood (Orlando Pride), Gabby Seiler (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Ogle (Portland Thorns FC)

Key Departures: Erin Simon (Racing Louisville FC), Cece Kizer (Racing Louisville FC)



2020 Record: 4-2-4

Players to Watch: Becky Sauerbrunn, Christine Sinclair, Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan

Big Gains: Natalia Kuikka (Göteborg FC)

Key Departures: Gabby Seiler (Houston Dash), Emily Ogle (Houston Dash), Britt Eckerstrom (Retirement), Katherine Reynolds (Retirement)



2020 Record: 4-3-2

Players to Watch: Andi Sullivan, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara and Trinity Rodman

Big Gains: Saori Takarada (Cerezo Osaka Sakai), Julia Roddar (Göteborg FC)

Key Departures: Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Meggie Dougherty Howard (Orlando Pride), Brooke Hendrix (Racing Louisville FC), Crystal Thomas (Orlando Pride), Jenna Hellstrom (KIF Örebro)



2020 Record: 7-2-1

Players to Watch: Debinha, Lindsay Agnew, Lynn Williams

Big Gains: Casey Murphy (OL Reign), Diane Caldwell (SC Sand), Agharad James (Reading FC), Carson Pickett (Orlando Pride), Taylor Smith (OL Reign)

Key Departures: Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Abby Dahlkamper (Manchester City), Stephanie Labbé (FC Rosengärd), Addisyn Merrick (Racing Louisville FC)



2020 Record: 5-5-1

Players to Watch: Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson

Big Gains: Mallory Pugh (Sky Blue FC), Nikki Stanton (Klepp IL), Sarah Woldmoe (Sky Blue FC)

Key Departures: Yūki Nagasato (Racing Louisville FC), Savannah McCaskill (Racing Louisville FC), Hannah Davison (AIK)



2020 Record: 0-2-2

Players to Watch: Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, Marta Vieira da Silva

Big Gains: Gunny Jónsdóttir (Kansas City), Erika Tymrak (Kansas City), Crystal Thomas (Washington Spirit), Meggie Dougherty Howard (Washington Spirit)

Key Departures: Jordyn Listro (Kansas City), Kristen Edmonds (Kansas City), Emily Sonnet (Washington Spirit)



Players to Watch: Emily Fox, Yūki Nagasato, Savannah McCaskill

Big Gains: Freja Olofsson (KIF Örebro)



2020 Record: 4-5-1

Players to Watch: Carli Lloyd, Kailen Sheridan, Midge Purce

Big Gains: Sodam Lee (Hyundai Steel Red Angels)

Key Departures: Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars), Sarah Woldmoe (Chicago Red Stars), Kaleigh Riehl (Racing Louisville FC)


KANSAS CITY (formerly Utah Royals FC)

2020 Record: 1-5-3

Players to Watch: Amy Rodriguez, Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson

Big Gains: Darian Jenkins (OL Reign), Chloe Logarzo (Bristol City FC), Mariana Larroquette (Lyn Club), Victoria Pickett (Drafted from Wisconsin)

Key Departures: Tziarra King (OL Reign), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit)



2020 Record: 2-4-3

Players to Watch: Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe, Quinn

Big Gains: Angelina (Palmeiras), Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), Tziarra King (Kansas City), Ally Watt (North Carolina Courage)

Key Departures: Julia Ashley (Racing Louisville FC), Michelle Betos (Racing Louisville FC), Taylor Smith (North Carolina Courage)



All games can be found on Twitch and Paramount+, but the following matches will be broadcast on CBS:

Apr. 9 at 8:30 p.m. – Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars (CBSSN)

Apr. 14 at 7 p.m. – Orlando Pride vs. Sky Blue FC (CBSSN)

Apr. 21 at 10 p.m. – Portland Thorns vs. OL Reign (CBSSN)

May 1 at 7:30 p.m. – NC Courage vs. Orlando Pride (CBSSN)

May 8 at 1 p.m. – Championship (CBS)

All times are EST.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

Copyright © 2021 She Scores

To Top