The UKG Challenge Cup returns to the NWSL this week, with three matches on Wednesday. Here’s everything you need to know to get ready to watch them.
With the Challenge Cup running concurrently with the NWSL season this year, starting lineups often look very different from regular season games. It provides variety for coaches to try out new ideas and it allows benches to get some rest during weeks that involved three matches over the course of seven days. Three more Challenge Cup games kick off on Wednesday night, with teams looking to shift their group standings through the results.
Who will have the edge in this week’s NWSL Challenge Cup matches?
1. NJ/NY Gotham FC at North Carolina Courage
Details: Wednesday, May 3, 7 p.m. EST, streaming on Paramount Plus
Gotham won their first Challenge Cup match against the Washington Spirit at Red Bull Arena, skyrocketing them to the top of their group. They managed to pull off a win with a Lynn Williams strike, facing down a youthful Washington Spirit side that was down a Trinity Rodman. It’s important to keep in mind that Gotham faces Chicago on Sunday, and they might be resting their usual starters for that match. Midge Purce was out for Gotham last weekend, and if she returns for this match it could make a world of difference.
The Courage are sitting in the middle of the standings after their opening Challenge Cup match ended in a tie with the Orlando Pride. If Kerolin can outpace Gotham’s defense as she does with almost every other team, the away side might be left playing catchup for most of this game. However, the Courage didn’t have a comfortable matchup against Orlando, earning their tie at the last second with a second-half stoppage-time equalizer from Denise O’Sullivan.
Score Prediction: NJ/NY Gotham FC 1 – 1 North Carolina Courage
2. Chicago Red Stars at Houston Dash
Details: Wednesday, May 3, 8 p.m. EST, streaming on Paramount Plus
The Red Stars head down to H-Town to take on the Houston Dash for their Challenge Cup matchup of the tournament. The Dash already have a loss under their belt as they fell to the Kansas City Current in their first game of the Challenge Cup. But this time they’re playing at home and will be looking to follow through with their chances. They’ve got a lot of talent on their squad, and head coach Sam Laity might be interested in changing things up in his starting lineup for this one, seeking out more chemistry among new pairings.
Chicago has been struggling defensively lately, but they appeared to have cleaned up and tightened down their backline in their last regular season match. They managed to hold the Washington Spirit at a 1-1 tie, which is impressive considering the Spirit’s attack. But more importantly, Chicago will be looking to find those goals they desperately need, and maintaining enough possession against the Dash to make a difference.
Score Prediction: Chicago Red Stars 2 – 1 Houston Dash
3. Angel City FC at OL Reign
Details: Wednesday, May 3, 10 p.m. EST, streaming on Paramount Plus
The Reign won the first rendition of this match up down in Los Angeles, and now they get to go again, this time at Lumen Field. They will be ecstatic about that first victory and hope that the momentum of it will push them into another one. At the same time, the Reign always struggle to finish their chances. With key playmakers Quinn and Rose Lavelle listed as out for their last match, the Reign will need to be sure they finish those opportunities or Angel City will not hesitate to make them regret it.
Angel City lost their opening Challenge Cup match at home to the Reign, falling to the Reign by two and being unable to have a response that led to them getting on the board. But there’s a key difference to their roster from the last match, and that difference is Julie Ertz. While she was signed with the team at their last match, she made her debut for the team on Saturday, helping them tie the Thorns with a magnificent header. She brings a commanding presence to their midfield and emboldens young talent like Alyssa Thompson. If either of them are on the pitch Wednesday, it would only mean good things for Angel City.
Score Prediction: Angel City FC 2 – 1 OL Reign