The National Women's Soccer League returned on Friday as the 2021 Challenge Cup kicked off. The competition is now an annual event and entering its second year, taking place ahead of the NWSL regular season, which begins May 15. Reigning Challenge Cup champions Houston Dash will host Chicago Red Stars to kick off the tournament in a rematch of the 2020 Challenge Cup Final. KC NWSL are in their inaugural season in NWSL will visit Portland Thorns FC to close out opening day.
Four games are on the docket over the weekend, including the newest expansion side, Racing Louisville FC, closing out the weekend fixtures as they host their first ever match at Lynn Family Stadium against the Orlando Pride. 2019 NWSL Champions North Carolina Courage will face off against Washington Spirit on Saturday as well.
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Here's how to watch and what to know about the games this weekend:
Friday, April 9
- Houston Dash 0, Chicago Red Stars 0
- Portland Thorns FC 2, Kansas City 1
Saturday, April 10
- North Carolina Courage 3, Washington Spirit 2
- Racing Louisville FC 2, Orlando Pride 2
The Dash try to defend their cup
Head coach James Clarkson has described this as a new era for the defending Challenge Cup champion Dash as they are now the team being chased after. They'll being their title defense against Chicago Red Stars in a rematch of the 2020 Challenge Cup final, but both teams will be without several key players due to an international window.
Houston will be without U.S. allocated players Jane Campbell and Kristie Mewis, along with English international Rachel Daly. Among others for Canadian international duty are Nichelle Prince, Allysha Chapman, and Sophie Schmidt. Chicago will be without U.S. allocated players Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz, and Tierna Davidson. Expect the match to have some choppy moments but some scoring.
The noise returns to Providence Park
Portland Thorns FC will host KC NWSL in their first fixture for the 2021 Challenge Cup and recently announced that a limited number of fans will be allowed for Challenge Cup matches in compliance with local COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. Typically known for the atmosphere, this match will be the first official competitive fixture to welcome fans back to Providence Park for a Portland Thorns game since 2019.
The Thorns will be without several players out on international duty, including team captain and all time leading international goal scorer Christine Sinclair. KC NWSL kick off their inaugural match on the road in one of the more intimidating settings in the league, though this time only at 25% capacity.
New-look Courage host Spirit
Don't be fooled by North Carolina's busy offseason that saw the departures of Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, and Jaelene Daniels. The 2019 NWSL champions still boast one of the strongest rosters in the league. The team will be without U.S. allocated player Lynn Williams to start their Challenge Cup, but still have one of the most dynamic players in the league with Brazilian international and 2019 NWSL Championship MVP Debinha. Hallie Mace, Meredith Speck, and Kristen Hamilton could have big impact for the club during their 2021 Challenge Cup run.
Washington Spirit are looking to build off their solid 2020 with their current core in place. The team will be without team captain Andi Sullivan, who recently got called up to USWNT camps in the international window, and defenders Kelley O'Hara and Emily Sonnett. Young forwards Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman could make some noise on the top line during the tournament.
Shades of Purple
Racing Louisville FC will host their first ever NWSL competitive fixture at Lynn Family Stadium against Orlando Pride and the two sides will feature different-looking rosters. Louisville recently announced the signings of five trialist players ahead of the Challenge Cup, and playmaking responsibility will likely fall on attacking players Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagastao.
Orlando head to Kentucky with veteran leadership in Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Sydney Leroux, and Brazilian legend Marta. This is the first time the Pride are participating in the Challenge Cup after having to withdraw last year ahead of the competition due to positive cases of COVID-19 among players and staff.