Stanford in the NWSL: Chapter 1

April 7, 2021, 9:18 p.m.

The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup will begin with a match between the defending champions Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars on this Friday, April 9. The match will kick-off at 5:30 p.m. PT and would typically feature two former Cardinal, but Tierna Davidson ‘20 of the Red Stars and Jane Campbell ‘17 of the Dash have both been called up to the USWNT for matches against Sweden and France. Both players will return to their respective teams for the final two matches of the Cup after the conclusion of the international break, but will unfortunately miss this much awaited rivalry game.

This first fixture will be a rematch of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup final, where the Dash took down the Red Stars in a 2-0 victory, its first tournament trophy since entering the league. It was this tournament that highlighted the talent of Campbell and has rewarded her with consistent call-ups to the national team. 

This match, however, will differ to last year’s fixture due to the FIFA international window. Besides Campbell, the Houston Dash will also lose a slew of other key players to the USWNT,  England and Canada. Comparing the teams based on the players they will be able to field, Chicago will have the leg up, but not the home advantage. Fans can watch this first match on CBSSN, or internationally on Twitch.

At 7:30 p.m. PT, Portland Thorns FC will take on Kansas City. The Thorns will have no Cardinal on the field as Sofia Smith ‘22 will also be away on the international break. On the side of Kansas City, both former Cardinal are expected to be present. Nicole Barnhart ‘05 and Lo’eau Labonta ‘15 will compete in Kansas City’s first ever regular season match. 

Although Kansas City is in its inaugural season, it acquired the former Utah Royals’ roster. The Portland Thorns and former Utah Royals played against each other a total of eight times, resulting in four draws, and three wins for the Thorns and a single win for the Royals. Under new management and a strong revamp of their roster, Kansas City will be vying to get a win against one of the historically strongest teams in the league. This match will be streamed on Paramount+, and Twitch internationally. 

On Saturday, April 10 at 12:30 p.m. PT, NC Courage will take on the Washington Spirit in Washington D.C. The Courage have no former Stanford players on their roster this season, while the Spirit have named four: Jordan DiBiasi ’19, Tegan McGrady ’19, Kelly O’Hara ’10 and Andi Sullivan ’18. Averie Collins ‘19 — also a member of the Spirit — has been marked on the season-ending injury list after tearing her ACL in January. O’Hara and Sullivan will both be overseas at the start of the tournament playing for the USWNT, but are expected to return for the final matches. 

In their head to head record, the Courage have played the Spirit ten times, winning nine of those fixtures. On average, Washington scores 0.9 goals per home match they play, whereas NC scores 1.9 goals per away match they play. Despite the differences in statistics, this match up could be wildly unpredictable given the international players away during the FIFA window and the roster turnover on the Courage’s side.

The Courage have been historically the most victorious team in the last five years of the league but lost key players during the offseason. Crystal Dunn went to Portland while Samantha Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper departed to Women’s Super League club Manchester City. The Courage will also not have Lynn Williams due to the international window. Regardless, the Courage and Spirit are considered the top two competitors in the East region and will likely be challenging each other for spots one and two. The exciting match can be watched on Paramount+ and on Twitch internationally.

Following the first early game, Racing Louisville FC will take on the Orlando Pride at 4 p.m. PT. The match up will be the first regular season game for Louisville in its inaugural season. Although the Louisville roster does not feature any former Cardinal, the Orlando Pride have Ali Riley ‘10 at their disposal. Riley, who has yet to play a NWSL match, will finally set foot on the pitch for Orlando after many years playing overseas and for the New Zealand national team. Riley was set to make her NWSL debut but was delayed due to the pandemic. As a captain of her national team and a prominent player for years in the European leagues, all eyes will be cast on Riley for her first match. 

This Saturday’s fixture will be a chance for Racing Louisville to show their presence as a new team in the NWSL following the most recent expansion draft. Fans however worry about the depth of the Louisville squad. After choosing two USWNT players, Tobin Heath and Christen Press ‘11 in the expansion draft, Louisville will be limited in their players. Both Heath and Press, even before the draft, stated their commitment to Manchester United, noting that they would likely not be back for the Challenge Cup. Because of this, although a long-term investment in the net worth of the team, with two extremely valuable players, Racing Louisville will lack depth for at least the beginning of this season. 

The Pride however will be suffering from the international break as well for their first two games with star Alex Morgan overseas with the USWNT and secondary keeper Erin McLeod to Canada. The match can be watched on Paramount+ and on Twitch internationally. 

The final match of next week will be on Wednesday, April 14 at 4 p.m. PT as NJ/NY Gotham FC, formerly Sky Blue FC, takes on Orlando Pride. The former New Jersey team launched a rebranding campaign Tuesday morning, changing its official club name to NJ/NY Gotham FC in an effort to include the NYC metro area within its fan base. Sky Blue FC has always been the closest NWSL team to the city, but was mainly marketed as a New Jersey team. Without a women’s professional team in the direct NYC area, Gotham FC now hopes to become a team for both regions.  

Gotham will not feature any former Cardinal. The teams have met a total of 11 times, with five wins going to the Pride, three draws and three wins on the side of Sky Blue FC. Regardless of the name change, the team will uphold the same roster going into the 2021 season. 

Like most teams, Gotham FC will be missing star players as both Carli Lloyd and Midge Purce were called up to play with the USWNT. The Pride will be coming off only a three day break after their previous Saturday game but will have the home field advantage. The mid-week game can be watched on CBSSN, and on Twitch internationally. 

Nearly all stadiums will also welcome back a small number of fans for their debut matches, as local guidelines allow.

Jenna Ruzekowicz is a staff writer in the sports section. She is a sophomore from Syracuse, New York majoring in Computer Science. Her teams include: Portland Thorns, Arsenal and Man City. Contact her at jruzekowicz 'at'

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