The Houston Dash won the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup on Sunday, beating the Chicago Red Stars, 2-0, in the final. It's the first NWSL trophy in Houston's history, and the Dash got the winning goal from Sophie Schmidt on an early penalty kick. The result wraps up the Challenge Cup, a month-long, eight-team tournament in Utah.
The Dash were able to set the tone early as midfielder Kristie Mewis won a foul in the box against Chicago defender Kayla Sharples. Schmidt, a Canadian international, stepped to the mark and was able to convert on goal, giving the Dash the lead in the fifth minute. They never relinquished it, and Shea Groom added an insurance goal in the 91st minute on a breakaway.
Groom and Dash captain Rachel Daly both ended the tournament with three goals -- tied for the most by any player. Daly, the tournament MVP, won the NWSL Challenge Cup Golden Boot with three goals and two assists.
The Red Stars had shot opportunities throughout, but could never find an equalizer. It was the second consecutive loss in a final for the Red Stars, who fell to the North Carolina Courage in last year's championship game.
Dash 2, Red Stars 0 (Final)
⚽Dash: Sophie Schmidt - 5' (PK)
⚽Dash: Shea Groom - 90+1'
Houston Dash: Second-year head coach James Clarkson emphasized the importance of a culture shift for his team over the offseason. He went out and targeted players to help both his defensive and top lines with players like Katie Naughton and Shea Groom. The team also elected co-captains in Jane Campbell and Rachel Daly, who both had significant moments in the final. Daly earned tournament MVP and Golden Boot honors.
The Dash get to head home with the very first club title for the franchise. They are also returning back to Houston as a transformed team. Throughout their tournament, their messaging was the same from players and coaches: they were a club with a new identity and were in Utah to compete. They achieved all that they set out to accomplish and more as they put the league on notice.
Chicago Red Stars: The Red Stars' unique journey to the cup final ended in defeat. To start the Challenge Cup, the coaching staff scripted the preliminary round, with head coach Rory Dames emphasizing the importance of using the games to give some of the team's newer talent game experience. Throughout the group phase, the team's top line struggled in front of goal, while the defense gave standout performances.
Along the way, the team suffered tournament-ending injuries to several key starters and impact players. However, the team found itself in the final after a three-goal showing in the semis. In postgame comments, Dames credited his players on their performances, despite the unique circumstances leading into the final. Dames noted he feels confident about the group's future.