NWSL: Spirit 0, Sky Blue FC 0
The NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals were action-packed.
The Portland Thorns and Sky Blue FC saw their Cinderella runs end at the hands of the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars respectively.
Chicago finally found their offence, putting three goals behind Kailen Sheridan, who had a rough outing in what was otherwise a strong tournament. Rachel Daly was the hero for the Dash, scoring the game-winner to break their long shutout streak and send Christine Sinclair and the Thorns home.
The Red Stars head into the final despite an injury-filled tournament, with Yuki Nagasato, Morgan Gautrat, Casey Short and Tierna Davidson all having missed time. The Dash have been inconsistent, looking like both a dangerous offensive threat and a side that struggles to put it all together.
Neither the Dash nor the Red Stars have ever won the NWSL title, so the Challenge Cup will crown a first-time champion on Sunday.
Canadians in action: Allysha Chapman, Sophie Schmidt, Nichelle Prince, Maegan Kelly
After being shut out in three consecutive games, all it took was one goal for the Dash to advance to the final with a 1-0 win over the Thorns courtesy Daly’s marker in in the 69th minute. A franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs in their seven-year history, the Dash is in uncharted territory. Their success on Sunday hinges on what version of the team shows up.
For the Canadians on the Dash, forward Nichelle Prince had another strong game and was arguably the best player in the semifinal. While she didn’t get on the scoresheet, Prince consistently created quality chances with her speed. Allysha Chapman and Sophie Schmidt played the full 90 again as they’ve continued to log heavy minutes in the starting lineup.
Chicago Red Stars
Canadians in action: Bianca St. Georges
After losing 4-0 in the championship game against the North Carolina Courage last season, the Red Stars get a chance at redemption as they head to their second consecutive final.
The Red Stars finally got the offensive explosion they were looking for when they got three past Sky Blue goalie Sheridan. One of the lynchpins in that win was the play of 22-year-old Canadian defender Bianca St. Georges.
St. Georges scored the opening goal of the game (her first professional goal) and assisted on the winner by Savannah McCaskill. St. Georges played another full 90 minutes and continues to get better as the tournament goes on. She hasn’t capped with the senior team yet but has played with Canada’s national teams at the youth levels. A strong game in the final to cap off her first NWSL season could help her chances in getting a potential call-up to the senior team in the near future.
Both teams have an equal shot at taking the championship title as neither squad has emerged as a favourite. The Red Stars will look to avenge last year’s loss in the final while this is the first appearance for the Dash. Each side possesses the offensive weapons to break the game open, and even when they have struggled, they found a way to pull out through.
The starting goalkeepers, Alyssa Naeher (Red Stars) and Jane Campbell (Dash), have had their highs and lows in the tournament and could be the ultimate difference-makers.
Based on how the Challenge Cup has unfolded so far, expect the unexpected for the championship game.