Team sports returned to the US on Saturday when the National Women’s Soccer League kicked off its season. They’ve opted for a “bubble” type tournament, playing the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah instead of a traditional home and away season.
As you can imagine considering history, there are loads of former Tar Heel players taking part across all eight teams taking part. So, here’s what you need to know about the NWSL Challenge Cup from a very UNC biased perspective.
The tournament kicked off with the defending champion North Carolina Courage playing the Portland Thorns. The Courage have a couple of very notable Tar Heels in 2019 World Cup winners Crystal Dunn and Jessica McDonald.
McDonald was out with injury, but Dunn started in what ended up as a 2-1 win for the Courage. However, it should be noted that all three goals in the game were actually scored after Dunn was substituted in the 65th minute.For Portland, Tar Heel Meghan Klingenberg got the start in a losing effort.
In Saturday’s second game, the Washington Spirit beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-1
The winning Spirit team feature three Tar Heels, but only one started the game. Paige Nielsen started at center back for Washington, while a second in midfielder Dorian Bailey came on as a substitute in the second half. The third, Jessie Scarpa, was not used in the win.
As for Chicago, they have two, including star Kealia Watt, who came close to a goal at one point but was slight offside. The other Tar Heel on the Red Stars is Zoe Redei, who was an unused sub.
The next set of games in on Tuesday when the other four teams will begin play. In the earlier of the two games, the Houston Dash will play the Utah Royals.
The Dash feature two Tar Heels. Bridgette Andrzejewski and Lindsey Harris are both in their first year in Houston, so it remains to be seen what role they’ll play in the tournament. Although, it should be noted Kim McCauley at fellow SB Nation All for XI projects Andrzejewski to start.
As for Utah, they feature one former Carolina player in New Zealand international Katie Bowen.
The later of Tuesday’s games is the OL Reign against Sky Blue FC.
The Reign have two Tar Heels in Amber Brooks and USWNT regular and expected starter Allie Long. Brooks is in her first year with the team, so it remains to be seen what type of role she plays. A third Tar Heels is actually on the Reign in Julia Ashley, but she will miss the tournament due to injury.
As far as I can tell, there are no former UNC players on Sky Blue, despite the name.
Every team will play four games, at the conclusion of which, they will be seeded for the knockout round. All games will air on the CBS All Access streaming platform. The final, on July 26th, will also air on regular CBS. Judging by all the names we’ve talked about, there’s a decent chance that game will feature some Tar Heels.