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Three takeaways from the NWSL Challenge Cup

OL Reign win the West division, the Spirit put Gotham to the sword and the Courage are looking something close to their best again

NWSL: Angel City FC at OL Reign Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The NWSL Challenge Cup produced another weekend of entertainment as teams looked to either book their places in the quarter-final round or try to avoid elimination in the group stages.

In the West division, OL Reign took pole position in not only qualifying but also winning the division after two wins in four days, the Washington Spirit rallied after going down early and the NC Courage are proving to be a tough team to beat once again.

Both California teams fall to OL Reign at Lumen Field

OL Reign hosted San Diego Wave FC on Thursday night and had no problems seeing off their challenge with a 3-1 win over the visitors. The Reign put up three goals in eleven minutes (a NWSL record which lasted 48 hours) and despite a goal by Alex Morgan in the first half, saw off any type of comeback San Diego tried to mount.

With such a quick turnaround between that game and the one against Angel City FC on Sunday, OL Reign rotated a fair few players to give their national team players some rest and also keep other players fresh for the upcoming season. The game against Angel City proved to be a tougher outing for OL Reign but they still managed to pull off the win thanks to a late, late goal from rookie midfielder Olivia Van der Jagt.

The ability to keep pushing and grind out a win is something that OL Reign and Laura Harvey will be delighted with, and will certainly hope to keep that mentality in the NWSL regular season when it starts.

With only one game left in the group stage against San Diego, OL Reign have virtually sewn up first place in the West division and have qualified for the knock out stages of the Challenge Cup. Angel City are now officially eliminated from the Challenge Cup but they will take a lot of positives from their performance against the Reign.

Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman lead the way against Gotham

A rivalry is brewing between the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC and I for one, welcome it. Rivalries are what make any league enticing and having only the Cascadia rivalry (OL Reign and Portland Thorns) being the only rivalry in the NWSL for so long, makes any new grudge match welcome. A small Twitter spat occurred after the last time these two teams met up between some of the players on both sides so we knew that when they faced off against each other again, there would be a lot of determined players out there, looking to get one over their opponents.

On Sunday afternoon, Naho Kawasumi put Gotham ahead early after the hosts had started well but that would be the best they produced as the Spirit bounced back and completely dominated the game, especially in the second half. Ashley Sanchez scored a fantastic free kick 20 minutes later to level the score again and Trinity Rodman finished things off with a goal in each half.

Rodman and Sanchez have taken their brilliant form from last season into this season and have started well for the Spirit. As long as they keep playing like that, and their veteran backline stays healthy, then Washington have every chance of repeating their NWSL Championship exploits once again.

Gotham have a lot of questions that need answering particularly after a lackluster second half in front of their home fans. Head coach Scott Parkinson still hasn’t quite figured out which midfield or formation works best for his team and it shows. Right now, Gotham aren’t getting the best out of Kristie Mewis, Midge Purce and Ify Onumonu and if they can’t get those three on song, they’ll have a hard time succeeding in the regular season as well.

Debinha keeps the NC Courage ticking

After losing the likes of Jess MacDonald, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams over the last few months, the Courage needed to find another key player to not only keep them ticking over but also help the new players around her thrive in the system that has helped the Courage succeed for so long. Up stepped Debinha who seems back to her mercurial best and is pushing those around her to be just as productive as well.

The Courage, along with OL Reign and the Spirit, are undefeated so far in the Challenge Cup and are all but guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals. Their 4-2 win over the Orlando Pride keeps them at the top of the East division and also gives them some breathing room at the top from the Washington Spirit. Debinha was once again, the key reason why despite Orlando getting two goals, the Courage still scored four of their own and thus, won the game. As long as she’s on song, the Courage will always be one the best teams in the league. Now, they will need others such as Taylor Smith and Kerolin, who have shown glimpses of potential. to step up as well so that Debinha won’t have to carry this team on her own.

A quick word on the Orlando Pride who have had a rough start to their season. After some abysmal performances to begin with, they were much better against the Courage despite being without the talismanic Marta and Sydney Leroux. They have a lot of work to still do before the regular season starts but they showed some signs of being able to at least keep up with the other teams in the NWSL once the whole team is used to the new system Amanda Cromwell once them to play.