The 2021 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Challenge Cup began this past weekend with four games, chaos and a lot of red cards. Fans on Twitter have already re-named the tournament the Chaos Cup.
Beginning with the first fixture of the weekend, the Houston Dash took on the Chicago Red Stars. Although the matchup would typically feature two former Cardinal, Jane Campbell ’17 from the Dash and Tierna Davidson ’20 from the Red Stars, were both called up for international duty.
The match was played mostly in the middle third and quickly became a battle of the midfielders. As a re-match of the 2020 Challenge Cup, it was relatively uneventful. The Dash took only three shots to the Red Stars’ 11. None of the shots from the Dash were on target, an issue that has been credited to the absence of their main front line, all of whom were called up to their respective international teams for the FIFA window.
The topic of international interruption in play is becoming an increasing worry for the Dash as their incredible performances last season have earned many of their players international spotlight. The Red Stars face a similar issue with their defense, as Davidson has become a frequent camp call up. Friday’s game ended in a 0-0 draw.
The game that followed was undoubtedly the match of the weekend. In what fans and commentators alike have named #NWSLAfterDark, the Portland Thorns took on Kansas City at the most rowdy stadium in the league, Providence Park.
For Portland, this match marked the beginning of fans being allowed into the stadium after over a year of closed doors. With Sophia Smith ’22 out on international break, as well as players such as Crystal Dunn and Becky Sauerbrunn, many expected Portland to show its faults. However, the game was hard fought and ended in a 3-2 victory for the Thorns. Available on the Kansas City side were Nicole Barnhart ’05 and Lo’eau Labonta ’15, neither of whom were subbed onto the field.
The match lived up to the #NWSLAfterDark title with a league-record four red cards allotted between the two opponents. Simone Charley of the Thorns would be the first to leave the game, with her second yellow card coming in the 90th minute. An altercation between Portland’s Morgan Weaver and Kansas City’s Kristen Edmonds resulted in two more red cards in the 94th minute. Manager Mark Parsons of the Thorns would also be given a red and thrown from the game.
Despite the rough ending, Portland would leave victorious, a home win for the legendary stadium and fan base.
The next match of the weekend was between the North Carolina Courage and the Washington Spirit. The Spirit features five former Cardinal: Jordan DiBiasi ’19, Tegan McGrady ’19, Kelly O’Hara ’10, Andi Sullivan ’18 and Averie Collins ’19. Collins, as of the Saturday game, is out indefinitely with an injury. O’Hara and Sullivan were also missing from the squad due to international duty. DiBiasi was named as a substitute for the weekend game, but did not see the field. McGrady would start the match for the Spirit, playing the entire duration on the backline.
Despite a surprisingly good showing from the Spirit, featuring a debut goal from No. 2 overall draft pick Trinity Rodman, the Courage won 3-2.
The final match of the weekend was an exciting home debut for the NWSL’s newest team, Racing Louisville FC. Louisville faced the Orlando Pride Saturday night, ending the game with a 2-2 draw after a late 93rd minute goal for the home side.
Pride players were vocal on social media, commending Louisville for its welcoming home opener and enjoyable atmosphere. The Pride feature new NWSL competitor Ali Riley ’10, a former Cardinal who had been playing overseas since graduation and has found herself back in the States this season. Riley started and played the duration of the game this past Saturday, holding down the backline with USWNT veteran Ali Krieger.
Altogether, the weekend ended with two draws, a win for the Courage and a win for the Thorns.
Following the matches, the NWSL Disciplinary Committee was also extremely busy over the weekend doling out punishments. Edmunds will receive a fine and an additional game suspension. Weaver will have her red card appealed. Jorian Baucom of Louisville will be suspended for one game after a tackle in the 83rd minute against Riley that originally only warranted a yellow card. Additionally, Meghan Klingenberg will be fined for post-match comments made about the altercation between Edmunds and Weaver. Finally, both Gotham FC and the Chicago Red Stars have received a fine for violation of a league directive.
In post-match news, the NWSL also announced it will be launching an investigation into an incident involving Chicago Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden and a Houston security official, after Gorden made public on social media that her boyfriend was threatened with arrest when attempting to see her after the game. Gorden also stated that her boyfriend, who is Black, was the only individual being threatened, as her white peers and opponents could freely visit and socialize with their white friends and family. The Houston Dash organization has released two statements as of Tuesday on the matter, neither of which directly address racism as a factor.
Tuesday’s fines to Chicago and Gotham are said to be a result of league criticism regarding the situation in Houston.
Coming up this week, the Orlando Pride will play Gotham FC on Wednesday, April 14 at 4 p.m. PT. This will mark the first game for the re-branded team Gotham FC, formerly Sky Blue FC.
On Thursday, the Washington Spirit will take on Racing Louisville at 4 p.m. PT, while the Portland Thorns will take on the Chicago Red Stars.
On Friday, OL Reign will play their first match of the Challenge Cup as they face the Houston Dash at 7 p.m. PT.
Finally, April 20 will feature two more matches, the first between Gotham FC and the North Carolina Courage at 3 p.m. PT, and the second between the Chicago Red Stars and Kansas City at 5:30 p.m. PT.
Matches can be found on Paramount+, with the exception of Orlando Pride vs Gotham FC, which will air on CBSSN.