When the National Women’s Soccer League swapped a regular season for the 2020 Challenge Cup due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the league also traded a postseason that sees four teams play three games total for a knockout tournament with one that has eight teams play at least five games each. It means all eight teams in Utah now have the experience of knockout soccer, an experience that many have enjoyed.
“In terms of just a cup setting, it’s fun, it’s exciting,” North Carolina Courage forward Kristen Hamilton said before her side was eliminated by Portland Thorns FC in the quarterfinals last Friday. “I think it’s good to get those pressure games under you. I think it builds character. You can kind of see what a team’s about and I think the teams that show up in big moments under pressure can get the job done.”
It is an experience club teams in American women’s soccer are hard-pressed to find outside of the NWSL playoffs. Some NWSL teams played in elimination games for the first time in franchise history at the Challenge Cup. The Houston Dash, who missed the playoffs in all six previous seasons of existence, advanced twice to play the Chicago Red Stars in Sunday’s final.
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