(CBS Local Sports)– Only four teams remain in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.
On Wednesday, the semifinals begin between the Houston Dash and Portland Thorns FC at 12:30 p.m. EST/PST on CBS All Access and then the Chicago Red Stars take on Sky Blue FC at 10 p.m. EST/PST on CBS All Access.
Last weekend’s quarterfinals featured only one goal and three matches being decided by penalty kicks. The defending champion North Carolina Courage were knocked out, the tournament moves from turf to grass and things are about to get really interesting over the next few days.
Jenn Hildreth called the opening match of the NWSL Challenge Cup on CBS and will be back this weekend for the championship on Sunday. Like everyone else, Hildreth has been riveted by the action over the past few weeks in Utah.
“It’s been awesome to have something to watch in the sports world,” said Hildreth in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “I think it’s been really exciting, other than the little bit of a dip in the quarterfinals. Not that you don’t get drama in the penalty kick shootouts, which we had three in the four games, but even as a former goalkeeper, I like some goals. The biggest surprise has to be North Carolina losing. To me, they were head and shoulders above the other teams in the tournament. They were the defending champs a couple times over.”
Portland Thorns FC is the only team remaining that has won an NWSL championship. Portland won it all in 2013 and 2017. Meanwhile, Houston hadn’t made it to the playoffs prior to this year, Sky Blue FC is just two years removed from a one win season in 2018 and Chicago is trying to win the title after losing in the championship match in 2019. Wednesday’s semifinal between Portland and Houston intrigues Hildreth for a number of reasons.
“It’s the old versus the new. Portland is one of the standard powerhouses in this league and the only team remaining in this tournament that has an NWSL championship to its name,” said Hildreth. “Houston’s attack is the second most exciting and dangerous attack overall behind North Carolina. They have not always finished on their opportunities. They have a tremendous goalkeeper in Jane Campbell. The advantage goes to Houston in the attack with the forwards. I love Rachel Daly, she is a must see player. I know at some point during the match she is going to create an opportunity. I think Portland has the advantage in the midfield. If Lindsay Horan is able to play and Rocky Rodriguez, those two especially are the key in getting the mix right.”
On the other side of the bracket, scoring has been an issue for both Chicago and Sky Blue FC. Each squad only has two goals in five matches and Hildreth believes this semifinal will be decided by the backlines.
“This one is interesting and when you talk about those must see type players, I put Julie Ertz at the top of that list for Chicago,” said Hildreth. “Where does she play for Chicago? Will she play in the back, she started the last game at centerback, but she still got forward quite a bit. Are they going to take a defensive stand and try to get to those penalties. Or will we see Ertz roll the dice a little bit more. They have some questions with how they shift things around in the midfield. With Sky Blue FC, this is a team that hasn’t proven they can be dangerous in the attack yet. They only have two goals and so does Chicago, but for the New Jersey team their goals came in one game. They hang their hat on their defense. I think they will be a little more defensive minded and I think the question is how aggressive Chicago gets. I’m curious to see what the last few rounds will give to us. What moments will stand out from this Challenge Cup that people will remember. I’m overjoyed to play some small part in this.”
Watch the NWSL on CBS and CBS All Access.