Four NWSL Challenge Cup matches were played on Saturday across the Central and West Divisions. Here is how things played out:
San Diego Wave FC 4, Angel City FC 2
The Skinny: After trading goals early, San Diego pulled ahead in the second half to earn a 4-2 win over Angel City on Saturday at Torero Stadium in San Diego. Alex Morgan earned a brace en route to the win.
One Key Moment: Morgan’s second goal — the Wave’s winner — was a spectacle from start to finish. The sequence started with a superb back-heel pass from Taylor Kornieck to Christen Westphal, who sent a cross in towards the penalty spot. Morgan — completely unmarked — was ready and waiting, and finished with a perfectly hit volley.
Inside the Game: A fun 90 minutes on Saturday in San Diego served as a great advertisement for the league’s first match of the season on CBS’s main channel.
It was all San Diego in the first half. Jodie Taylor’s opener for the Wave showcased her familiar partnership with Morgan, both of whom played together in Orlando. But despite the dominant play, Angel City were gifted an equalizer in the 38th minute when some miscommunication at the back from the Wave’s Tegan McGrady and keeper Kailen Sheridan led to a howler of an own goal. With Sheridan moving one way and McGrady sending her back pass the other, the ball rolled into the Wave’s goal.
San Diego re-gained the lead just moments before the break, when Morgan recorded her first goal of the season for the Wave. This time, Morgan took advantage of a blunder at the back by Angel City’s Ali Riley, and made no mistake with her finish.
Angel City would equalize once more before the hour mark. Christen Press brought down a cross in the area, and the Wave defenders couldn’t close her down in time. Press placed her shot perfectly, finishing past Sheridan for her first of the season.
After the equalizer, the momentum swung back in San Diego’s direction. Morgan’s winner in the 72nd minute was followed up by a fourth goal, this time by substitute Amirah Ali. The rookie managed to race past Angel City defender Vanessa Gilles (who otherwise had a strong 90 minutes on the day) and drove to the goal. Ali slipped her shot under the hand of DiDi Haracic for her first professional goal.
It was an emphatic win for the Wave, who pressured Angel City early and often and didn’t panic after the disastrous first half own goal. On the flip side, the visitors struggled to get things going attacking wise throughout the match, and managed just two shots (one on goal), compared to San Diego’s 15 shots, five of which landed on target.
- San Diego Wave FC – Jodie Taylor, 19’
- Angel City FC – Own Goal by Tegan McGrady, 38’
- San Diego Wave FC – Alex Morgan, 45’+3’
- Angel City FC – Christen Press, 59’
- San Diego Wave FC – Alex Morgan (Christen Westphal), 72’
- San Diego Wave FC – Amirah Ali (Isabella Briede), 81’
— Emily Dulhanty
Portland Thorns 0, OL Reign 1
The Skinny: This Cascadia Rivalry match was very cagey and close, but in the end, Rose Lavelle’s goal sealed all three points for OL Reign.
One Key Moment: Lavelle’s goal was a thing of beauty, with the build-up play creating the space to make it possible. Quinn drifted wide and drew defenders, while Bethany Balcer dropped deeper centrally, creating the space for Jess Fishlock at the top of the box to find the perfect seam between the defenders for Rose to run onto.
Inside the Game: This rivalry match is always a close one and Saturday’s game was no different. The match itself wasn’t particularly open but it was cagey, similar to the last match between these two sides in March, which ended in a draw. The Reign’s high pressure created early chances when Portland’s wingbacks were more defensive-minded, giving space for dangerous crosses from Sofia Huerta. These chances, however, were too rushed and the crosses were unable to find teammates in the box. It didn’t take too long for the Thorns to realize they needed to push those wingbacks, Madison Pogarch and Natalia Kuikka, higher up the pitch, which forced Reign forwards Ally Watt and Veronica Latsko to sit low and help defend.
For a while, Portland enjoyed better chances and possession through their very organized defense and coordinated push up the field when the visitors played back. They also continued to try long balls in behind to Sophia Smith after absorbing pressure, but for the most part these were well handled by the young center-back pairing of Alana Cook and Sam Hiatt. Portland was still able to sit back in a five-back and make it incredibly difficult for the Reign to break them down. Jess Fishlock acknowledged this after the match, saying that they needed to fluidly move the ball around to make space. This is exactly what they did to score the game-winner. Portland continued to create chances but the Reign’s back line stayed strong, making good, stand-up tackles, 38 clearances, and another standout performance from Phallon Tullis-Joyce in net.
- OL Reign – Rose Lavelle (Jess Fishlock), 74’
— Bella Munson
Kansas City Current 0, Racing Louisville 3
The Skinny: Racing Louisville earn just their second ever road win in Kansas City’s first home match of the year. Despite the Current’s shot production, Racing were efficient with their chances to score three.
One Key Moment: Racing’s second goal — the one to really put them in control of this game after the early opener — was the key moment of the match. The goal was emblematic of Louisville’s strong build up, and the mistakes made by KC’s defense.
Inside the Game: Kansas City started off this home match the stronger side, putting the visitors under early pressure, forcing turnovers, and holding possession. The Current outside backs, in particular Hailie Mace and Kristen Edmonds, had a strong game, getting high up the field to put crosses in and cutting inside to play make. But 10 minutes in, Louisville got the opener, against the run of play. It came from Racing’s build up play down the right side between Lauren Milliet and Emily Fox. The two took advantage of Mace’s advanced positioning, and found space in behind for Jess McDonald. This is something Racing tried to take advantage of throughout the match. In this instance, McDonald was able to drive to the end line and send in an incredibly dangerous cross that was so difficult to defend it forced an own goal off the retreating Mace.
The home team continued to create good chances before and after the halftime break, but the end product was lacking, evidenced by the 17 shots taken with only two on target, rarely testing Katie Lund in net. And an hour in, Racing once again stole the Current’s momentum, scoring against the run of play to double their advantage. The goal exemplified some of the defensive struggles KC had in this game. With two rookies at center back, the communication and organization was lacking. Cece Kizer created space by driving into the penalty box, drawing defenders, sending in another dangerous cross that wasn’t properly cleared, allowing Milliet to pounce. Co-captain Gemma Bonner would add the third from a set piece just five minutes later.
Racing Louisville did well to pick and choose their moments in this match, deciding when to push in transition and when to hold possession. They held just about as much possession as their opponents but in front of goal they were lethal, with four of their nine shots on target.
It wasn’t just the loss that will worry Current fans. At the end of regulation, Mace went down for an extended period of time and had to be helped off the field. Having already lost Lynn Williams to a season ending injury, the Current can’t afford to lose such a crucial part of their offensive production in Mace.
- Racing Louisville – Hailie Mace (Own Goal), 9’
- Racing Louisville – Lauren Milliet, 60’
- Racing Louisville – Gemma Bonner (Emina Ekic), 65’
— Bella Munson
Chicago Red Stars 2, Houston Dash 0
The Skinny: The Chicago Red Stars picked up all three points, and kept a clean sheet against the Houston Dash, on Saturday night in NWSL Challenge Cup action, with two goals from Mallory Pugh.
One Key Moment: There are two phenomenal things about the first Mallory Pugh goal. First off, the pass from Vanessa DiBernardo was absolute perfection, speeding through at least three Houston Dash defenders and finding the open foot of Pugh. The U.S. women’s national team forward dribbled down the right side and fired a low shot past the outstretched leg of Jane Campbell.
Inside the Game: Chicago coach Christ Petrucelli rotated his roster by some necessity — while James Clarkson did not do the same for Houston, despite the Dash also playing midweek — and the Red Stars offered some nuance to the system they’ve been developing. Chicago has been playing in a 3-4-3 to start 2022, but on Saturday — at least for the first 55 minutes — it was an off-balance 3-5-2 which overloaded Houston’s right side and put Dash right back Haley Hanson under pressure. Vanessa DiBernardo played in a free role and Pugh largely targeted that Dash right side but also frequently drifted across the pitch — including on both her goals.
Houston’s struggles continued, and the loss leaves the Dash in last place in the Central Division of the NWSL Challenge Cup. The Dash registered only one shot on goal on Saturday as the midfield struggled to link play with Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince, and Maria Sanchez on the front line. Clarkson subbed off all three of those players between the 68th and 78th minutes in search of a spark (and, perhaps, to save their legs for international duty after a long week). Pugh’s second goal sealed the game, however, giving her two braces in two games against Houston this year already.
- Chicago Red Stars — Mallory Pugh (Vanessa DiBernardo), 32′
- Chicago Red Stars — Mallory Pugh (Bianca St. Georges), 82′
— Rachael Kriger and Jeff Kassouf
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