Free Agency Recap
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The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup begins Friday as the league introduces two teams into the fold. This is the third annual Challenge Cup for the league after being introduced in 2020 in lieu of a regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 edition will feature 12 clubs, with Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC as new expansion sides, and will have three regional divisions playing six group matches.
Group winners and the top second place finisher will participate in semifinals to determine two cup finalists. Fans can watch 2022 Challenge Cup games on Paramount+.
The Challenge Cup begins on Friday, March 18 as Racing Louisville FC host Kansas City Current at Lynn Family Stadium, and Pacific Northwest rivals OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC go head to head in Seattle at Lumen Field. Opening weekend will continue Saturday, March 19 with a tripleheader, and the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars close out the weekend Sunday night.
Friday, March 18
Saturday, March 19
Sunday, March 20
Let’s take a look at some bold predictions on the matches this weekend:
Expect both sides to come out with a chip on their shoulder as they try to shake off the bottom-table positions they carried through the majority of the 2021 regular season. Both teams made additions to their rosters over the offseason, but expect to see Racing’s draft picks play key roles during the match. Jaelin Howell and Savannah DeMelo were selected in the first round with picks No. 2 and No. 4. and the two players could see extended time on the pitch if they get acclimated to the pro level quickly.
The first match out the gate for the two of the biggest rivals in the league is likely to have some preseason rust and disjointed play, but the game will come down to the middle third for both sides. Each team lost key figures in their midfield over the offseason, and the attention to detail in between the margins will be crucial. Expect the Reign to have sway in the midfield battles with player options with Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, and Quinn among others.
The Spirit have nearly all of their 2021 NWSL Championship side returning for the 2022 season. Expect Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Sanchez to continue their high-octane attack into the Challenge Cup. The trio has been involved in U.S. national team camps throughout the offseason, and if they can remain healthy, they’ll continue to be the most lethal attack in the league.
Both clubs saw roster changes over the offseason ahead of the expansion draft, though it’s the Courage who enter their opener with far more new faces among the forward line. They’ll have a tough test against a Gotham side that featured one of the stingiest defenses in the league in 2021. Gotham FC traded goalkeepers Kailen Sheridan and Didi Haracic, but the club is in good hands with veteran keeper Ashlyn Harris — record holder for most saves in the league — after a trade with Orlando.
Both teams will participate for the first time in NWSL competition with stars Alex Morgan and Christen Press lining up on opposite sides of the pitch. Press makes her return to NWSL action for the first time since 2019, after playing overseas with Manchester United. Morgan is now with her third inaugural club after suiting up for Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride. Their first match, however, will come down to the goalkeepers, as former Gotham teammates Kailen Sheridan and DiDi Haracic take up posts for the two new expansion sides.
Two familiar foes, the Houston Dash will host the Red Stars in a Matchday 1 scenario for a fifth time in their NWSL history when they take the pitch on Sunday. The Red Stars’ offseason crept into their preseason after they introduced a new head coach nearly three weeks into the program and the team will likely need time to find form during Challenge Cup. Expect Houston’s international trio Rachel Daly (England), Nichelle Prince (Canada), and Maria Sanchez (Mexico) to be active in the attack and pick up a win.
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