The Final: Chicago v Houston
This game was a lot of things. It was thrilling, exciting, beautiful, scary and, in the end, emotional. This game was the final of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. The competing teams were Houston Dash, who won 1-0 over Portland Thorns in the semi-final, and Chicago Red Stars, who won over Sky Blue in a penalty shoot-out. Both teams had never won the NWSL before, so it was going to be an historical game, whatever the outcome would be. And an historical game it was. Just five minutes into the game, Chicago's Kayla Sharples fouled Kristie Mewis in the penalty area. The penalty was given, and the Canadian Sophie Schmidt shot it right into the goal. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher couldn't do anything about it, diving the weing way. This made Houston lead the game with only five minutes played. A big chance for Chicago comes in the 15th minute, when St. Georges crosses the ball in front of the goal. Keeper Jane Campbell blocks it, but doesn't manage to get the ball. In the rebound, McCaskill's header hits the post, before Rachel Daly kicks the ball out. In the 29th minute, Mewis gets subbed, walking off in tears. The foul that led to the penalty seems to have affected her, and later it turns out to be her hamstring. The second half is filled with corners and offside calls. Both sides get a few chances, but no one manages to find the back of the net. Slowly it's getting clear that Houston Dash might have an actual change of winning their first title ever. And then, one minute into added time, a mistake from Alyssa Naeher lets Shea Groom score in an open goal. It's the third goal this season for the experienced player, and right after she runs to her club's bench, celebrating as if they'd won the cup already. Which they did, a few minutes later. The final whistle marked not only the end of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, but also the first title for Houston Dash, who had never even finished 5th or higher in the regular season during the 6 years they'd participated in the NWSL. Houston's Rachel Daly won both the Most Valuable Player price and the Golden Boot, where teammate Shea Groom won the Golden Ball. Daly was also my personal player of the match. What a season this was. The first American sports' league to return after Covid-19, the withdraw of Orlando Pride, the win over NCC by the Portland Thorns, and now a first title for Houston Dash. 2020, a season we'll never forget.
by Emmy van Ingen