The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup is in full swing as teams continue group play this week. While every team will advance into the knockout round (which kicks off July 17), time is running out for some clubs looking for answers on offense.
Six of the tournament's eight teams will be in action over the next two matchdays, and all 2020 Challenge Cup games can be streamed with CBS All Access. Here's the upcoming slate:
Wednesday, July 8
Utah Royals vs. OL Reign, 12:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dash vs. Sky Blue FC., 10 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 12
Washington Spirit vs. Houston Dash, 12:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals FC, 10 p.m. ET
Before play picks back up on Wednesday, let's take a closer look at each team in action Wednesday and/or Sunday.
Utah Royals FC: The tournament hosts have impressed with their commitment to coach Craig Harrington's 3-5-2 formation during the Challenge Cup. It has earned them a high-scoring draw against Houston Dash, and a win over Sky Blue FC thus far. However a number of their key players, including Amy Rodriguez and Diana Matheson, hold yellow cards as they enter the third game against OL Reign.
It's a quick turnaround for the Royals (who play again Sunday night) this week, and an additional yellow to any of these players would make them unavailable for their final group match against Chicago Red Stars.
OL Reign: The Reign have found themselves somewhat snakebit in front of goal as their previous two matches are a scoreless draw against Sky Blue FC and a 2-0 loss against Houston Dash. New head coach Farid Benstiti has his team committed to establishing its shape and formation in these group games, but Reign's finishing in the final third will need to connect quickly before knockout rounds begin.
If forwards Darian Jenkins and Bethany Balcer can connect against Utah or Washington, it could change the trajectory of the club heading into the knockout stage.
Sky Blue FC: Another team that has been struggling in front of goal this tournament. Sky Blue are without stars Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh due to minor injuries, and the team has had to press on and establish themselves without the big playmakers. Midge Purce is a strong offensive option, but both players and coach Freya Coombe believes Purce can be most effective for the team at fullback.
Scoreless and winless this tournament, the team will need to look elsewhere for creativity in front of goal, and try to connect with Iffy Onumonu in effort to remain competitive.
Houston Dash: Head Coach James Clarkson has his team rolling this tournament with a level of commitment and buy-in to team culture that may have been lacking in prior seasons. In post-training comments, Clarkson credited his players with the commitment to team building despite the circumstances surrounding the tournament.
"I think we were fortunate that everyone stayed in Houston," Clarkson said. "All the players were in town the whole time we were locked down. We worked on keeping everybody really connected and working on individual relationships and getting to know one another better on a human side rather than just looking at them as soccer players."
Washington Spirit: The Spirit entered the tournament as one of the youngest clubs but with a high ceiling. They've come away with a win against Chicago and a draw against Portland, while managing the minutes of Rose Lavelle. The latest goal, from second-year defender Sam Staab, came off a back-heel volley assist from rookie Ashley Sanchez.
Staab said she believes the Spirit are up to the challenge of establishing chemistry and making a deep run in Utah.
"I think we came out and a lot of people have said we were going to be the dark horse of the tournament," she said. "I think we've kind of been on our way to proving that. This tournament style season is a little bit different where we are together all the time. I think it's kind of good to force team chemistry in a little bit of a quicker manner than how it usually is in a regular season."
Chicago Red Stars: The team is currently in last place in the tournament standings. While it's an unfamiliar place for the team, group play is going according to plan for head coach Rory Dames, who has stated throughout various media availabilities that the team was scripting its group play in terms of starting lineups, substitutions, and game day scenarios.
While the Red Stars' rookies and second-year players have gotten valuable experiences in the games, the coaching staff will likely start completing the puzzle it started. The team has one goal scored over three matches played, and there's a need to identify which offensive combinations work best for the Red Stars moving forward if they are to make a run in the Challenge Cup.