As strange as it may sound, maybe because good news is rarer these days than adamantium, the NWSL Challenge Cup wrapped up today and would have to go down as a success. At the top of the “reasons why” list: after the Orlando Pride pulled out before even arriving in Utah, the tournament saw no positive tests for COVID-19 among players or staff during the month-long competition. The tournament allowed the league to have the stage to itself for the first time, which led to network exposure and strong ratings. And the actual play was an excellent showcase for some of the stars around the league.
The Houston Dash will take home the trophy after a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars. Kristie Mewis was on the field long enough to earn the penalty that would lead to Houston’s winning goal before having to exit with a leg injury. From there it was about holding the Red Stars at arm’s length, which the Dash did, as they only saw four shots on target-against in a match they led for 85 minutes. Shea Groom wrapped it up in injury time, sprung by Rachel Daly on the counter. It was a nice bit of symmetry, as Groom was the player of the game (goal, game-leading three tackles) and Daly the player of the tournament (three goals, two assists in seven games).
For Chicago, it’s yet another silver medal, as they were runners-up in NWSL last year, losing the final to North Carolina after four straight semifinal appearances before that. It’s probably justice, as the Red Stars were attempting to “Portugal ’16” their way to a tournament championship — namely, playing only one or two good games while Forrest Gumping the rest to win the whole thing — as they’d only scored three goals in their first five games before exploding for three in the semifinal against Sky Blue FC.
What happens from here is still very much up in the air. Just yesterday, league commissioner Lisa Baird emailed all the players, instructing them to be back in their homesites by August 17th, seemingly suggesting that the league will try and complete its normal season in the fall. Or at least they would like everyone to be ready to go if possible. Other than that, Baird stated that no league activity would go past October 17th, perhaps trying to duck the “second wave” of coronavirus that had MLB in such a tizzy about finishing before November as well. That’s if this first wave is ever allowed to end by the dumbass-half of this country.
Certainly it will depend on conditions around the country, but it would be a shame if the league couldn’t capitalize on the Challenge Cup. Going through the tournament without a single positive test and an entertaining product are certainly feathers in NWSL’s cap, and the league has already had to go without the push that the Olympics — and the U.S. team’s fortunes therein — would have provided.
There’s also the added bonus of having a deal with CBS and the promotion the league would get from the upcoming Champions League finish in August. These are all things the NWSL would be excited to take advantage of.
In the end, the only thing that really matters is that everyone made it out safely. The Dash have the trophy and medals, and thankfully that’s all anyone is returning home with.