Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been keeping an eye on the NWSL Challenge Cup, as, unsurprisingly, there are Tar Heels all over the league taking part. On Sunday, it officially came to an end, so let’s put a bow on all of that and take a look at the various UNC alumns did in the knockout playoff stage of the tournament.
The champion Dash have a pair of Tar Heels in Bridgette Andrzejewski and Lindsey Harris, although neither ended up playing any minutes in the tournament. Andrzejewski dealt with injuries throughout the tournament, while Harris was a backup goalkeeper behind someone who didn’t allow any goals in the three games in the knockout stage, so it’s understandable.
The defeated Red Stars also have two. Kealia Watt wasn’t able to help get Chicago on the board in the final, but she had a big moment to hep them get there. In the quarterfinal, she clutchly converted her penalty kick in a shootout win over the OL Reign. It must’ve stung considering that this is her first year with Chicago after playing the previous six years with Houston.
The other Red Star Tar Heel is Zoe Redei. She was an unused substitute in all three knockout stage games after getting a little bit of time in the earlier stage of the tournament.
In our last update, the team that was the odds on favorite to win was the North Carolina Courage, who won all four of their “regular season” games to go into the knockout stage as the top seed. However, when they got there, they were upset by the #8 seed Portland Thorns.
Portland held the Courage and their two star Tar Heels, Crystal Dunn in Jessica McDonald, in check in a 1-0. The Courage recorded 24 shots, two by Dunn and one by McDonald, but the Thorns back line managed to avoid allowing one into the back of the net. One of the people responsible for that is UNC’s Meghan Klingenberg, who put in a 82 minute shift in the upset win. Her and Portland could not quite replicate that in the semifinals, where they fell 1-0 to the eventual champion Dash.
The remaining Tar Heels all saw their tournaments end in the quarterfinals. Paige Nielsen and her Washington Spirit defense kept Sky Blue FC off the board for all 90 minutes of regulation before they eventually lost in a penalty shootout. It was a similar start for Amber Brooks and the OL Reign in their aforementioned penalty shootout loss to the Red Stars. That game could’ve gone different had Tar Heel Allie Long not missed it due to an injury.
No UNC may have ended up playing the decisive role in the final, but it’s no surprise that there are still Tar Heels all over the ranks in women’s professional soccer.