The NWSL Challenge Cup is in full swing as the eight-team tournament has provided us the return of professional team sports in the United States. All teams have three games under their belts, and group play will wrap up with four games across Sunday and Monday. While the group stage determines seeding, all eight teams will advance into the knockout round. In a tournament format, it truly will be about finishing strong.
With a three-day break before the seventh matchday, it's a perfect time to rank the eight teams. Our power rankings have shifted since play began, but there's no doubt about who belongs on top. Take a look below at where teams have landed after some preliminary group play.
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North Carolina Courage
This is the team everyone expected to come in and dominate. Carolina entered the tournament with little roster turnover while also adding players to impact games off the bench. After three wins out of three in the preliminary round to start, the Courage clinched the No. 1 seed with a group game remaining after Houston lost to Sky Blue FC on Wednesday night.
Richie Burke and his young team have made a statement in Utah going up against top-tier teams in Chicago, North Carolina, and Portland Thorns FC. The Spirit have four points in three games so far and look like they'll be a tough out in the knockout stage. They'll face Houston on Sunday.
Portland Thorns FC
Mark Parsons and his team are dedicated on building up over the prelim round as they continue to establish their presence. Lindsey Horan and Rocky Rodriguez have been forces on the pitch for Portland, and the team had a strong showing in its last match against Washington. The Thorns need to continue to connect on goal if they want to keep pace in the standings against regional rival OL Reign.
Utah Royals FC
The tourney hosts were impressive with their attack to start group play. Craig Harrington has shown trust in his team to use a 3-5-2 formation and his roster, led by Amy Rodriguez, has been notable in its commitment. The team is coming off a disappointing loss on a stoppage-time goal against OL Reign and will face Harrington's former club, Chicago Red Stars, on Sunday.
New head coach Farid Benstiti has seen his team run into some trouble producing goals as players utilized the first two games as a way to establish their style of play. The team got their first tournament win against Utah Royals FC on a 91st-minute goal. The team will need to connect earlier if they want to leap regional rivals Portland Thorns FC on Monday.
James Clarkson has his roster unafraid of any team, as Houston put together two multi-goal games in its first two preliminary round matches. A recent loss to Sky Blue FC dropped the Dash in the power rankings, however. The Dash will need to make adjustments against Washington Spirit on Sunday if they want to crack the upper half of the rankings again.
Sky Blue FC
New head coach Freya Coombe made adjustments this week as Sky Blue FC got a win against Houston. The brilliant play from Jenifer Cudjoe in the midfield, and the playmaking of Imani Dorsey got the team's first win of the tournament. They face NC Courage on Monday to close out group play.
Chicago Red Stars
Head coach Rory Dames has said that group play would be used for newer talent on his roster to pick up some experience. The Red Stars' group play will conclude on Sunday, and they will need to connect offensively before heading into knockout rounds. Only one goal scored in group play so far, and scoreless in two of their three group matches, they face Utah Royals FC on Sunday.