by Jen Cooper
The championship game of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off today shortly after 11:30 am CT, with a live broadcast on CBS network television as well as CBS All-Access and Twitch (for fans outside USA & Canada). Two teams who have never lifted an NWSL trophy — last year’s runner-up Chicago Red Stars and the Houston Dash — will battle for the newly-designed, sponsored-by-Budweiser Challenge Cup trophy. So here’s a look at a few notable stats and factoids from the tournament:
• This game is the first time that the Dash have played in a championship match. The 2014 expansion club, the first in NWSL, has never reached the playoffs following a regular season. Houston’s highest finish in the NWSL regular-season standings was 5th place in 2015, six points out of the playoffs. Chicago, on the other hand, has made the NWSL playoffs the last five seasons in a row, the longest streak in league history. The Red Stars reached the final for the first time last fall, defeating Portland 1-0 in the semifinal and then falling 0-4 to the North Carolina Courage in the final.
• Today Kealia Watt (formerly Ohai) will play against Houston for the first time in her NWSL career. Watt was traded to Chicago in January in exchange for Katie Naughton, and departed the club as the Dash’s all-time leader in goals (28), assists (16) and games played (114). Watt has started all but one game of the tournament and leads Chicago in total shots (9).
• Houston centerback Katie Naughton has played every minute of the Challenge Cup so far. Like Watt, the final will be her first game against her former club. Naughton is poised to finish the tournament as the minutes leader. Six others played every minute for their respective clubs in the Challenge Cup — Abby Erceg (North Carolina, 5 games), Naho Kawasumi (Sky Blue, 6 games), Gina Lewandowski (Sky Blue, 6 games), Paige Nielsen (Washington, 5 games), Sam Staab (Washington, 5 games) and Sarah Woldmoe (Sky Blue, 6 games).
• At the moment, Lynn Williams has first dibs on the tournament’s Golden Boot with 3 goals and 1 assist in five games. Tournament MVP Rachel Daly has the same goal/assist total but has played more minutes than Williams. If Daly records a goal OR an assist in the final, she will take the Golden Boot. Standings for the award are determined first by number of goals, then assists, then fewest minutes played.
• The Dash have a chance to set a new club record for longest stretch without allowing a goal. Houston has not conceded a goal since the 16th minute of their final first-round game, a 1-0 loss to the Washington Spirit. So that’s 254 shutout minutes. If the Dash get past 62 minutes in the final versus Chicago without allowing a goal, they’ll break the club record of 315 scoreless minutes, set in May–June 2015.
• Savannah McCaskill scored the game-winner for Chicago in the semifinal, and assisted the game-winner in the first-round finale against Utah. She scored her first-ever goal for the Red Stars against Houston last September, a 3-0 win at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview. In that same game, Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell stopped Yuki Nagasato’s penalty-kick attempt, setting a new league record for both career PK saves in the regular season (7) and PK saves in a single season (4).
If you can’t watch today’s game live, CBS Sports Network will re-air the game at 6 pm CT and 11 pm CT. All tournament are available on demand via CBS All-Access (though the final will likely not be available to rewatch til early Monday).. Fans outside the USA and Canada can rewatch matches on NWSLsoccer.com.
And be sure to check out the Mixxed Zone women’s soccer podcast hosted by Keeper Notes — next week’s episode will recap all the action of the Challenge Cup semifinals and championship game.