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Challenge Cup week 5 roundup: where did the goals go

Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want to shoot one time

North Carolina Courage v NJ/NY Gotham City FC Photo by Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

I know I said last week that teams look ready for regular season and generally, I think they are. But this round of Challenge Cup games was slow and boring. There, I said it. Slow! And! Boring! And that’s okay. Not every game is a banger. Teams get tired. Rosters get rotated. Balls weirdly don’t go in the net. There’s something in there about how NWSL may not have a glut of truly elite on-form scorers at the moment, but also there were plenty of games that had you going “how did that not become a goal??” The scoring opportunities are (inconsistently) there. With a little more adjustment, let’s hope they translate into proper goals as everyone comes out of the Challenge Cup warmed up, kinks all ironed out for regular season.

North Carolina Courage 0 - 0 Orlando Pride

Despite NC absolutely raining crosses down on Orlando, the finishing wasn’t there. They were 2-to-1 on shots and 3-to-1 on crosses , as well as massively outpossessing and outpassing them while dominating the center of the pitch and their right wing. And yet, look at that double donut scoreline. Partial credit to Orlando here as from time to time they did do a good job of collapsing well in front of the Courage’s countering. But they were also doing a lot of last-ditch defending in front of their goal, and who could forget Ashlyn Harris’ frustrated reaction in the second half when no one stepped to Debinha entering Debinha scoring range and promptly releasing a near-worldy on goal. Also, it’s still a little mystifying why they’re not using 6’1” Taylor Kornieck in better, more aggressive ways.

Gotham FC 0 - 0 Racing Louisville

Gotham stuck to the plan under temporary head coach Becca Moros as Freya Coombe was out with a family emergency. Unfortunately, the plan had a lot of the same problems that have been cropping up for Gotham, most prominent among them a lack of scoring opportunity generation and finishing. That includes a ball on a platter for Carli Lloyd courtesy one Midge Purce, only to see Lloyd goof the shot (apropos of nothing, Evelyne Viens was only subbed on the 89’).

Louisville had some great drives forward and in the second half took the game to a tiring Gotham, bullying them a little bit on the ball and perhaps even forcing Gotham into a strategic sub whenthey pulled Jennifer Cudjoe. But they had the same problems with anemic shot generation on this one.

On the bright side, Gotham did get newly traded midfielder Allie Long into the fray, where she was able to play at both the six and the eight throughout the second half as needed. Sabrina Flores also got some minutes, which is good to see given that she brings depth that Gotham’s defense needs.

Said Gotham defender Caprice Dydasco postgame, “I think today, we kind of were just on different pages, sometimes we were trying to play possession but sometimes we wanted to just transition so I think just realizing the signals of why we want to go and transition and when we want to actually keep the ball and possess high. I think we had really good chances today but I think we also could be a little bit smarter with the chances, times we want to go forward and transition and build.”

Houston Dash 1 - 1 Portland Thorns

Goals! Real live goals! They both scored them! In fact a very nice one from Shea Groom, and a slightly less nice but still good one from Christine Sinclair.

The Thorns looked a little shaky out there; it seemed a bit like everyone’s dribbling was letting them down and Becky Sauerbrunn was having to cover some asses. But if they were shaky, then Houston were wobbly, often having to contract quickly, absorb a lot, and try to play out in the second half. Houston’s midfield felt it as Kristie Mewis was forced to leave early in the second half with some kind of injury and Sophie Schmidt was not quite enough of a dominant presence in that space.

“I think the game really ebbed and flowed,” said Becky Sauerbrunn after the game. “I think you could give us the first 25. You can give them the next 20. I think that first half was really a tale of two halves right there. I think we had some really good looks, I thought they had some really good looks. They obviously put one away late in the second half, or late the first half, sorry. And so I think it was really an up and down game. I think we probably owned most of the second half and really kind of wrote the energy. They’re just an extremely dangerous side especially on transition, I think Daly, I think Nichelle Prince, like you’ve got players - Latsko - that just can go and can cause problems and so defensive transition for us was a real focus going into this game just knowing that this team on the break is extremely dangerous and trying to control that.”

Kansas City 1 - 2 OL Reign

This game technically did have the most goals of the week and Kansas City in particular are probably going to bring a lot of fun and excitement with their quick transition. But despite opening this game with a beauty from Mallory Weber, KC just couldn’t convert a single quick transition into a goal. They tended to play fairly narrow and direct until the final third, getting width from Victoria Pickett and Katie Bowen. Chloe Logarzo had a good half for KC, bringing highly disruptive energy in midfield that earned them turnovers and helped play into that fast transition game.

Meanwhile, the Reign persevered - they didn’t look pretty doing it, and there didn’t seem to be a great deal of organization or cohesive game plan, but persevere they did, earning the win off a Jess Fishlock penalty and then a late header from Celia on a corner kick.

The third part in all of this was, unfortunately, the playing surface. The ball took weird curves, unpredictable stops and bounces, and generally didn’t have a good time in some knobbly spots on the Field of Legends.

“I’m not really sure it’s our place to comment on pitch” said Reign GK Karen Bardsley. “I think that’s probably KC’s responsibility. But ultimately the playing surface wasn’t ideal. You know, to build out of the back, and there were a lot of kind of areas in midfield and along the wings that made it a little bit more difficult. But ultimately both teams play on it so you know, we have to kind of just deal with whatever we’re given. But that’s football for you. You have to be able to make those adjustments and adapt.”

That’s it for group play of the Challenge Cup. With Portland handily winning the west and Gotham squeaking into the top spot in the east, the two will meet in Portland on Saturday, May 8 at 1 PM ET. The game will air live on CBS.