The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup kicked off this weekend and gave fans a taste of what’s to come once the regular season starts up again. We were treated to four draws and two wins, with every team still trying to figure itself out and fans wondering what to make of their favourite teams and players after one game.
We watched the two new expansion teams, Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC, face off against each other to earn a 1-1 draw, we saw the Chicago Red Stars come back from being 1-0 down to beat the Houston Dash 3-1, and we witnessed some outstanding goals, all in one weekend of football.
Here are some of the big moments that captured my attention from the first round of matches at the Challenge Cup
Sofia Huerta scores bangers for fun
This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that Sofia Huerta has produced a goal that will make you stand up out of your seat. Against the Portland Thorns, in OL Reign’s new home Lumen Field, Huerta opened her account at that stadium with a ‘worldie’.
OL Reign had moved the ball down the left flank before Angelina received it just outside the penalty area. She then sucked most of the Portland’s backline towards her, feinting a shot before squaring the ball to Huerta. The fullback then wound up her leg and released an effort that any striker in the world would be proud of, putting her team ahead after a great start. It was the only goal the hosts ended up scoring but it was well worth the price of admission.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Huerta stated plainly that she just “hit the sh*t out of it to be honest” when she was asked about the goal. And how she hit it. With nothing but power and bend on it, no goalkeeper in the world was going to stop that. We look forward to seeing her produce more bangers as the season progresses.
Christen Press vs Kailen Sheridan
The narratives floating around the home opener for Angel City FC against the San Diego Wave could fill a book but it was the narrative within those narratives that made this game so much fun to watch. Christen Press and Kailen Sheridan are not unknown quantities at these points in their careers so watching them duke it out as the game wore on was one of the most intriguing battles out there on Saturday night.
Christen Press started the game as she meant to finish and had it not been for Sheridan, she would’ve gotten on the scoresheet herself. As early as the seventh minute of the game, Press glanced right by her marker before unleashing a ferocious shot that looked like it was headed into the top corner. Instead, Sheridan managed to get the slightest tough on it which made the ball hit the crossbar and bounce away, denying Press and Angel City the opening goal.
Press was a constant danger throughout, with her gliding runs and accurate shooting but it seemed as though any time she was close to getting her first goal for Angel City, Sheridan was there to spoil the party.
Mal Pugh and the Chicago Red Stars
There’s not much that went right for the Chicago Red Stars in the off season. Long-time head coach Rory Dames is no longer with the team due to allegations of systemic abuse and key personnel were traded away to other teams (e.g. Sarah Gorden and Julie Ertz). With so much uncertainty surrounding the team, not many were sure of what we would see against the Dash on Sunday night but after conceding, the Red Stars responded with heart and determination.
At the heart of that response was Mal Pugh, who continues to only get better and better as her career resurges. Pugh picked up two goals in Chicago’s win against Houston, with her second being the pick of the bunch.
After winning the ball in the Dash’s own half, Pugh then received a pass before driving forward and going for goal. The ball took a deflection, taking it away from Jane Campbell’s outstretched hand but it was nothing more than Pugh had deserved for her performance that night.
Her resilience, and that of her teammates, can only be a good thing for Red Stars fans. Those still with the team are prepared to dig deep and make the most of this season, which is what any fan would like to see from a team that has had to battle against a lot off the pitch.
The NWSL Challenge Cup also saw the NC Courage pick up the only other win of the weekend against Gotham FC. The Courage, like the Red Stars, were also another team facing a lot of uncertainty going into the season due to off field issues. Apart from that, we were treated to four draws as teams still looked disjointed for large parts of their games. This weekend should provide us with a lot more insight into each team and I for one, am looking forward to all the new narratives that will pop up as the tournament progresses.
What moment caught your attention the most during the opening weekend of the Challenge Cup? Sound off below.