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 played at least two games in Utah and there are less than two weeks before the knockout stage begins. While the group stage determines seeding, all eight teams will advance into the knockout round, and in a tournament format, it truly will be about finishing strong.
With a two-day break before the sixth matchday, we're here to rank the teams about halfway through the competition. 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, don't be surprised if the Courage enter the knockout stage undefeated.
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.
Utah Royals FC
The tourney hosts have impressed with their attack. Craig Harrington has shown trust in his team to use a 3-5-2 formation and his roster, led by Amy Rodriguez, has been impressive in their commitment.
James Clarkson has his roster unafraid of any team, as Houston put together two multi-goal games in the first two preliminary round matches. The Dash's ability to make adjustments and keep a clean sheet in their second match has them cracking our top four.
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 young attacking core will need to finish its chances in order to make the knockout rounds interesting.
Chicago Red Stars
Rory Dames has mentioned that group play for his team would be used for the younger talent on his roster to pick up some experience. Chicago's best performance came against the Courage, the tournament's top team. Only one goal scored in group play so far, but if the Red Stars can generate more offense, they could make a deep run in the knockout stage.
New head coach Farid Benstiti has seen his team run into some trouble producing goals. He's utilized the first two games as a way to establish his team's style of play. The Reign have a big-time player unavailable at the moment in Jess Fishlock, and it remains to be seen who will stand out in their methodical build-up on the pitch.
Sky Blue FC
Scoreless in two group matches and without a ton of ideas offensively. Sky Blue FC came into the tournament without Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh and their next top goal scorer, Midge Purce, is playing at outside back. Head coach Freya Coombe believes that is Purce's best position, but will the team be able to make additional adjustments and generate some goals to shake up the power rankings?