After being the first professional sports league to return in the United States, the NWSL concluded the Challenge Cup today with the Houston Dash defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0.
The Dash got off to quick start when Kristie Mewie drew a penalty after being fouled by Kayla Sharples in the fourth minute. Sophie Schmidt capitalised from the spot to help them take an early lead. That would end up being the only goal in the first half.
For much of the second half, both teams were not able to add to the scoresheet. However, in the first minute of extra-time, the Dash were on a breakaway and Shea Groom received a through ball from Rachel Daly, where she was able to put the ball past U.S. national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. The goal would end up clinching the title for Houston.
The club is owned by several prominent athletes such as boxer Oscar de la Hoya and NBA superstar James Harden but the Dash have never been able to compete in the NWSL. In fact, since the club was founded on December 11, 2013, they have never qualified for the playoffs. This makes the Challenge Cup the franchise’s first piece of silverware in its history.
On the other side, the Chicago Red Stars lost a key player in Sam Kerr. The Australian international departed the NWSL for Chelsea after winning the Golden Boot three years in a row. However, they were able to succeed without the goal-scoring machine and were able to finish up as runners-up in the tournament.
These two teams were not supposed to make the finals. The fourth and sixth place finishers were not considered to be serious threats for the tournament, compare to favourites such as the North Carolina Courage or the Washington Spirit. However, both of these clubs ignored where the critics and made some noise in Utah.
The NWSL had the privilege of being the first pro sports league to return in America, and the tournament featured many great stories from upsets to underdog stories. This tournament was a great kickstart to sports in the country and should be a catalyst in the expanding coverage in not only women’s soccer but sports in general.