The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup has returned as the third installment of the competition begins on Friday when Racing Louisville FC and Kansas City Current clash and Pacific Northwest rivals OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC close out opening day.
Opening weekend will feature four games, including a tripleheader on Saturday with the Orlando Pride hosting 2021 NWSL champions Washington Spirit, North Carolina Courage squaring off against NJ/NY Gotham FC, and new California expansion sides Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC going head-to-head in a special inaugural game for both sides. On Sunday we close things out with the Houston Dash hosting the Chicago Red Stars. Fans can watch all Challenge Cup opening weekend festivities on Paramount+.
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Here's where teams rank on our rankings ahead of the 2022 Challenge Cup:
The Spirit begin the Challenge Cup as reigning NWSL champions with much of their title-winning roster intact. They've got the target on their backs as the tournament kicks off with Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch, and Trinity Rodman leading the attack
Laura Harvey, who joined the Reign as head coach late last season, will finally get the chance to have a full season under her belt with the club in order to build off a string 2021 campaign. A midfield built around Rose Lavelle, Quinn and Jess Fishlock will be key to their success.
The 2021 Challenge Cup winners have a new head coach in Rhiann Wilkinson and lots of new faces on their roster. Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver are entering their third season with the club and their success will be a factor for Portland moving forward.
NJ/NY Gotham FC
The 2021 Challenge Cup runners-up have unfinished business as this will be head coach Scott Parkinson's first competition with the club after taking over late last season. New acquisition Kristie Mewis will be an added asset in the attack with Margaret Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu.
Kansas City Current
Player additions in Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams have immediately bolstered the front line and middle third for the Current. Their familiarity with Kristen Hamilton and Hallie Mace will help Kansas City in the central region.
The Dash have struggled to recapture the magic from their 2020 Challenge Cup run. The team has a solid defense now with center back Katie Naughton leading the back line along with team captain Jane Campbell in goal. Rachel Daly is always reliable in the attack and the addition of Maria Sanchez could reignite things for Houston.
Chicago Red Stars
The team will rely heavily on players who have been with the franchise for years to produce typical organized performances. But the club hired a head coach nearly three weeks into the preseason, so don't be surprised if it struggles out of the gate as new players try to find their form.
North Carolina Courage
Courage head coach Sean Nahas has been adamant this isn't a rebuild despite several new names on the roster. Debinha will always be a factor on the pitch -- how she navigates the midfield with Denise O'Sullivan will be crucial as new forwards get integrated
Angel City FC
Freya Coombe, who took Gotham to the 2021 Challenge Cup final, has a new mission now that she's in Los Angeles with an expansion franchise that's taking its first steps into NWSL play. The team will lean on goal scorer Christen Press -- she's making her return to NWSL action for the first time since 2019.
San Diego FC
Another expansion side from California bracing for its first Challenge Cup action. Wave head coach Casey Stoney will unveil her tactics with Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper in tow. All eyes will be on how she utilizes No. 1 draft pick Naomi Girma.
Racing Louisville FC
No longer the new kids on the block now that we have a pair of expansion franchises in the fold. Still, Louisville managed to hit the reset button this offseason with a new head coach Kim Bjorkegren and a chance to build a franchise around young players Ebony Salmon and 2022 draft picks Jaelin Howell and Savannah DeMelo.
Consider this the first stage of a rebuild for new head coach Amanda Cromwell and the Pride as future results reflect. Despite a massive player migration over the offseason, Sydney Leroux and Marta are players capable of destroying their opposition.