After a successful bubbled NWSL 2020 Challenge Cup, teams return to their home markets for the NWSL 2021 Challenge Cup, starting on Apr. 9. The tournament will feature 21 games and ten teams, divided into two major playing regions, East and West. The full schedule can be found here.
After the conclusion of the 2021 Challenge Cup, teams will continue to play in their home markets with a 24 game regular season, leading to a six-team playoff series. The regular season is set to start in mid-May and conclude in November.
Going into the 2021 Challenge Cup, 11 former Stanford players are currently rostered among the 10 teams.
Starting with the Chicago Red Stars, defender Tierna Davidson ’20 is the only rostered Stanford player. Davidson began her Stanford career in 2016, starting all 21 matches and being named the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. As a sophomore, Davidson again started all of the team’s 25 games and contributed to the Cardinal’s record of 19 shutouts in a single season. She also was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, as well as the College Cup Defensive MOP. During her junior year, she was named the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. After concluding her junior year, Davidson declared for the NWSL Draft and was chosen number one overall by the Chicago Red Stars, where she remains today.
The Houston Dash also have a single Cardinal named to their roster with keeper, Jane Campbell ’17. As a freshman in 2013, Campbell started 18 games. As a sophomore, she tallied 14 shutouts, ending her remarkable season with a 19-2-3 record overall. She went on to be named the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year in her junior season while playing 22 out of 23 season games, and also made the All-Pac-12 First Team. In her final year, Campbell tied Nicole Barnhart ’05 for most career shutouts with a total of 35, and was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team once again. After her senior season, Campbell was drafted in the second round, pick 15, to the Houston Dash, where she has since led the team to their first trophy in the 2020 Challenge Cup.
Next is KC NWSL, which currently has two players rostered for their inaugural season: keeper Nicole Barnhart ’05 and midfielder Lo’eau Labonta ’15. Barnhart, in her time at Stanford, was named to the All-Pacific-10 in 2002, 2003 and 2004. She is currently tied with Campbell for most career shutouts at 35. Labonta began her freshman year in 2011 with an injury that kept her out for most of the season. During her sophomore season, Labonta played 22 matches, ending her Stanford career with 50 shots and five goals. Labonta was then drafted in the fourth round, 31st pick to Sky Blue FC.
The OL Reign currently has a single former Cardinal, recent graduate defender Sam Hiatt ’20. Hiatt transferred to Stanford in her sophomore year from Boston College. In 2017, the Cardinal went on to become NCAA Champions. As a junior in 2018, she played 20 out of 21 total matches, and became a Pac-12 champion. And once again in 2019, Hiatt and the Cardinal won another NCAA Championship after a tense match against North Carolina. Hiatt then went on to be drafted in the fourth round, becoming the 33rd pick of the 2020 NWSL Draft to Seattle Reign, the former OL Reign program, where she remains.
The Orlando Pride have another rostered Cardinal as they head into the Challenge Cup, defender Ali Riley ’10. As a freshman in 2006, Riley played a total of 18 matches. In her sophomore year, Riley missed a portion of the season after being called up to the New Zealand international team for the World Cup. Riley returned and play 16 games that season. As a junior in 2008, Riley again missed part of preseason training and the first few games after being called up to play in the 2008 Olympics. It was during this season that she made her conversion from forward to outside back. During her final season at Stanford, Riley played in all 24 games and was named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was then drafted in the first round, 10th pick to the FC Gold Pride from the former WPS.
Another recent Stanford star, forward Sophia Smith ’22, currently belongs to the Portland Thorns. Smith began her Stanford career in 2018 with three game-winning goals and was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team. In both 2018 and 2019, Smith became a Pac-12 Champion, and in 2019, her sophomore season, was a NCAA Champion. Smith then left Stanford, becoming the first overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft to the Portland Thorns, with whom she will be starting her second season.
Finally, the with the most former Stanford players is the Washington Spirit, which currently has midfielder Jordan DiBiasi ’19, midfielder Tegan McGrady ’19, defender Kelly O’Hara ’10 and defender Andi Sullivan ’18 named on its 2021 Challenge Cup roster.
Dibiasi began her Stanford career in 2015, where she was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team and started all 23 games. She went on to play a cumulative 45 games in her sophomore and junior years. In her senior season, Dibiasi was a MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist, as well as the Pac-12 Midfield Player of the Year. After her time at Stanford, Dibiasi was drafted in the first round, third pick to Washington.
In 2015, McGrady was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, playing in 16 games. She played another 21 games as a sophomore in 2016 and 16 as a junior in 2017. As a senior, McGrady dominated once more, being named to the All-Pac-12 First Team. McGrady was then drafted in the first round with the seventh pick to Washington where she continues to play.
Possibly one of the most valuable players rostered is O’Hara, who began her Stanford career in 2006 and was named to the All-Pac-10 First Team and Freshman Team that same year. In her second season, O’Hara became the team leader in goals (9) and points (23) with a total of 65 shots taken. As a junior, the Cardinal has no regular-season losses in games that O’Hara played. In her final season on the Farm, O’Hara became Stanford’s first MAC Hermann Trophy winner while leading the nation in goals (26) and points (65), setting Stanford records for both. O’Hara went on to be drafted in the first round with the third pick to FC Gold Pride of the former WPS.
The final Cardinal making NWSL rosters this season is Andi Sullivan. As a freshman at Stanford, Sullivan was named the National Freshman Player of the Year, as well as the Pac-12 Player of the Year. In her sophomore year, Sullivan was named as a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, as well as part of the All-Pac-12 First Team. In her junior year, she was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, as well as a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist. In her final year, Sullivan was the MAC Hermann Trophy Winner, and was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Sullivan would leave Stanford as the first overall draft to the Washington Spirit.
Teams with no former Cardinal include NC Courage, Sky Blue FC and the newest team, Racing Louisville FC.
All former Stanford players can be followed through their respective teams during the 2021 Challenge Cup, which starts Apr. 9, and will be televised through CBSSN and Paramount+.