NWSL Challenge Cup: Four takeaways from opening weekend, including a red card frenzy in Portland

The National Women’s Soccer League kicked off the league’s second annual Challenge Cup over the weekend, with a new team debuting, red cards, and late-game drama in multiple forms. Here’s what you may have missed from the four-game slate over the weekend.

1. There were debut goals galore.

The weekend saw a number of debut goals for players across the league including rookie Trinity Rodman with the Washington Spirit. There were three debut goal scorers during new expansion team Racing Louisville FC’s first-ever match against Orlando Pride. Ceci Kizer opened up the scoring in Lynn family Stadium and made history with the first goal scored for Racing Louisville, and recorded her first goal in NWSL after being drafted in 2019 with the Houston Dash.

Taylor Kornieck scored her first goal for Orlando ahead of halftime, and Abi Kim scored a world-class goal to give the Pride a brief lead over Louisville after some thrilling back and forth.

To close out the night Brooke Hendrix scored one memorable equalizer for Racing Louisville, as she recorded her first goal in NWSL.

2. Dash raise their banner, but fall short on the pitch.

The 2021 Challenge Cup was billed as “The Rematch” of the 2020 Challenge Cup championship final, but the first game out of an extended two-month long preseason gave way to some disconnected play on the pitch as both the Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars teams tried to build into a rhythm. 

By halftime Houston held a slight edge in possession over Chicago, but had failed to make significant impact in front of goal. A goal by Veronica Latsko was ruled offside, and by the end of the match the Dash conceded possession to Chicago, and had just three total shot attempts (zero on target).

3. The Courage look as lethal as ever.

An active offseason that saw the departures of Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and the retirement of Jaelene Daniels, and many NWSL fans wondered if North Carolina would still remain a top contender after losing so many key players from the 2019 championship squad.

North Carolina’s first Challenge Cup match against Washington Spirit showed that the Courage are still the same elite team. Head Coach Paul Riley rolled out a line up that featured the return of Merritt Mathias from an ACL injury and still has top talent in Jessica McDonald, Abby Erceg, Kristen Hamilton, and Brazilian international Debinha. 

After going down an early goal during against Washington, the team responded immediately, netting an equalizer with link-up play between McDonald and Hamilton.

The team will only get stronger with the return of striker Lynn Williams and Irish internationals Denise O’Sullivan and Diane Caldwell.

4. It was a red card affair in Portland.

Portland Thorns FC welcomed the return of fans to Providence Park after a 545-day absence as Kansas City NWSL made their debut in league competition after establishing their club in the 2020 offseason.

The match got off to an early offensive start as the Thorns opened the goal scoring in the eighth minute as Meghan Klingenburg, who got the start as a defensive mid, served a free kick into the box where Rocky Rodriguez headed the ball into the net. Tyler Lussi extended the lead for the Thorns in the 58th minute, but Kansas City chipped away at the lead. Amy Rodriguez, KC NWSL captain and former FC Kansas Dity striker, scored the inaugural goal for the league’s newest Kansas City franchise.

The game, however, ended with multiple red cards issued in the final five minutes. Portland Thorns forward Simone Charley picked up a second yellow for a poor challenge and was sent off, while Morgan Weaver and KC NWSL defender Kristen Edmonds were each issued the cautions after a heated exchange between the two players in the winding minutes. Thorns head coach Marc Parsons was also sent off on a red card as the game drew to a close.

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