Facebook Twitter

‘It’s going to be so much fun’: NWSL Challenge Cup moves to knockout phase this weekend

The Challenge Cup has transitioned from the preliminary phase of competition to the knockout portion, beginning with quarterfinal matches on Friday and Saturday

SHARE ‘It’s going to be so much fun’: NWSL Challenge Cup moves to knockout phase this weekend
AP20182698591457.jpg

Houston Dash forward Veronica Latsko (12) and Utah Royals FC midfielder Vero Boquete (21) battle for the ball during the second half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match at Zions Bank Stadium Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Herriman, Utah.

Rick Bowmer, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Rachel Corsie’s tweet said it all.

The Utah Royals FC center back on Tuesday followed her routine, arising early, and at 6:22 a.m. MDT, wrote on Twitter, “Knockout football….Oh YES PLEASE,” quoting a tweet from the National Women’s Soccer League which showed the bracket for the NWSL Challenge Cup.

Indeed, the Challenge Cup has transitioned from the preliminary phase of competition, which saw each of the eight teams play four games over two weeks, to the knockout portion, beginning with quarterfinal matches on Friday and Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman.

While this tournament undoubtedly has a different feel to it than a postseason after six months of regular season games, there’s certainly a sense of anticipation around the NWSL “bubble” in Utah, perhaps because, barring something unexpected, this will be the only league play in 2020.

“Knockout football. I think we’re all excited. We knew it was going to happen for all of us, so to finally have gotten to this point, with the grind and the challenge of the Challenge Cup, to be at this point, I think we’re all really excited across the entire league.” — URFC head coach Craig Harrington

“Knockout football. I think we’re all excited,” URFC head coach Craig Harrington said. “We knew it was going to happen for all of us, so to finally have gotten to this point, with the grind and the challenge of the Challenge Cup, to be at this point, I think we’re all really excited across the entire league.”

Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta, who has never made the playoffs since entering the league in 2015 but won a national championship at Stanford, said, “I’m excited. I’m excited for the players that haven’t been a part of that before because now they’re going to be experiencing such a higher level. It’s going to be so much fun.”

As much anticipation as there might be, though, there is the task at hand that needs to get done if teams want to advance. For URFC, the quarterfinals will provide a rematch of the first game of the tournament for both sides, a dramatic 3-3 draw on June 30. In that game, URFC went up a goal in the first half before surrendering three straight. A furious rally in the final 10 minutes salvaged a point.

“I don’t think things need to change drastically,” outside back Katie Bowen said. “I think that there’s definitely areas that we can improve on from the Houston game, not conceding three goals. 

“I that we’ve taken massive strides. Even though we didn’t get the results the past two games, we’ve learned a lot, and I think in doing film analysis of Houston and on ourselves, we just need to rectify some mistakes and I think we can come out there and hopefully get the win.”

Harrington added that, “I think we’ve gotten better as the tournament’s gone on,” but he echoed the sentiments he made Sunday after a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Red Stars that his team needs to finish more of its scoring chances.

Can that be fixed in training somehow?

“I think it’s giving players the confidence in training,” he said. “You’ll never create that as much as the game environment ... but we definitely have to improve in that box when we get our chance against Houston. We have to advance and we’re well aware of that.”

URFC and Houston will play in the second quarterfinal match of the day on Friday, with first kick set for 8 p.m. MDT. The first game will see the mighty North Carolina Courage face a Portland Thorns FC side that is usually among the NWSL’s best but struggled in the preliminary round.

On Saturday, the Washington Spirit will face Sky Blue FC in the morning game and OL Reign will play the Red Stars in the nightcap.

A wrinkle that will take effect in the knockout round is that games will not end in draws, although no extra time periods will be played. If a contest is tied after 90 minutes, it will go straight to penalty kicks to decide the winner.