NWSL’s Houston Dash Earn First Franchise Title With Challenge Cup Victory
The National Women’s Soccer League led the return of professional sports after a multi-month professional sports hiatus in North America because of the global pandemic. In the bracket-style tournament between eight NWSL teams, the Houston Dash came out on top to win the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.
The team defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in the final matchup. Midfielder Sophie Schmidt buried a goal in the first four minutes of play thanks to a penalty, and Houston’s stellar defense throughout prevented the Red Stars from ever tying the game. A Dash goal from forward Shea Groom, assisted by eventual tournament MVP Rachel Daly, early in stoppage time clinched the victory.
The Challenge Cup is the Dash’s first title since joining the league in 2014, although many had written off the Dash’s hopes of winning the cup before it even started. The franchise had never clinched a top four seed to make the NWSL playoffs in club history, and statistical site FiveThirtyEight gave the Dash just a seven percent chance of winning the tournament before the Challenge Cup officially kicked off. At the beginning of June, the Dash’s betting odds were +2,000, according to Sports Illustrated.
While no one had expected the team to come out of the tournament victorious, the players never doubted their abilities.
“I’ve never been on a team that’s been this inseparable, this gritty and fights to the death,” Groom said after the game, according to Sports Illustrated. “I think this is a new chapter for the Dash … it just needed a little bit of a winning mentality.”
While the return of sports felt glorious for all watching, it was no easy task for the teams and athletes. Every team, including staff, were in complete isolation for the entire month of the tournament. Constant disruption of preseason matches and training, as well as the inability for players to interact with their families, made the transition particularly difficult.
Although pandemic protocol was taxing on the players and staff alike, the NWSL left Utah with zero COVID-19 cases, a major success for sports moving forward.
“We’ve faced so much adversity,” Daly said to ESPN. “More than anybody in the world could understand — and they’ll probably never know.”