NWSL Challenge Cup: Four takeaways from Week 2 as Gotham FC rebrand with a win, Thorns take control

The 2021 National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup continued this week as two teams kicked off their competitions with Gotham FC winning on the road against Orlando Pride, and OL Reign playing out to a scoreless draw against reigning Challenge Cup champions Houston Dash. 

One team has separated themselves in the West division, while the East division is still up for grabs. Here’s what you may have missed from the four-game slate over week two in NWSL Challenge Cup action.

1. Portland is in position to win the West.

Portland Thorns FC picked up their second win in the West division over Chicago Red Stars. The Thorns were coming off an opening night win against Kansas City NWSL where the match ended with multiple red cards issued in the final minutes. A red card issued to striker Morgan Weaver was rescinded after review by the NWSL disciplinary committee, allowing her to be available for the match against Chicago, while Simone Charley and head coach Mark Parsons were absent. 

Weaver’s impact on the Thorns match against Chicago came just past the hour mark as the forward broke the scoreless draw off a defensive clearance from Portland against a Red Stars corner kick. 

The team closed out the 1-0 win against Chicago, giving them six points over their first two matches, and separating themselves from the competition in the West division. The rest of the West — Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, and OL Reign — have all either only lost or draw in their tournament.

2. Gotham FC re-introduce themselves.

The team formerly known as Sky Blue FC re-branded ahead of the 2021 season as Gotham FC. The club is repping the NY/NJ metropolitan area and kicked off their 2021 Challenge Cup with a win on the road against Orlando Pride. Gotham retained possession throughout and dominated time on the ball but didn’t initially look dangerous on goal as Orlando recorded multiple shots in transition.

Gotham’s attack broke through with Elizabeth Eddy and Ifeoma Onumonu linking up to combine with Paige Monaghan making a run down the left flank into the box unmarked to score the only goal in a 1-0 win.

3. The East division is up for grabs.

Gotham’s 1-0 win over Orlando Pride means the club is level on points atop the East standings with the North Carolina Courage. The Washington Spirit also have three points, but have played an extra game.

All five teams in the East division have earned a win or a draw over the last two weeks. The Courage will have their first road match against Gotham FC on April 20, and the winner would be in the driver’s seat to win the East.

4. Offenses still trying to click.

As the Challenge Cup enters its third week, a number of clubs have struggled offensively to start their 2021 campaigns. Houston and Chicago are now goalless in their first two matches, while OL Reign also kicked off their tournament with a scoreless draw.

The Red Stars have been winning offensive stats battles in their first two matches, but have been unable to finish in front of goal, leaving lingering questions for the club on who is going to be that standout attacking player for Chicago. Houston is struggling without stars on international duty, though the Dash could welcome back Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince, and Kristie Mewis back to the fold during their next match against Kansas City on April 26.

OL Reign saw strong individual performances from Leah Pruitt and Sofia Huerta on the wing, and from Tziarra King and Jasmyne Spencer off the bench. OL Reign will need to find some offense in a rivalry match against the Portland Thorns on Wednesday.

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