The Houston Dash are just a day away from beginning their Challenge Cup campaign in Utah. After the news that the Orlando Pride would be dropping out due to a COVID-19 spread amongst its staff, the NWSL had to reconfigure the remaining eight participating team schedules. The Dash will now kick off their tournament against the hosts, the Utah Royals, on Tuesday June 30th at 11:30 AM CT.
The change in schedule has aided the Dash’s chances of a higher seed for the elimination round. Along with the Royals, they will face the OL Reign on the 4th of July, Sky Blue FC on July 8th and then finally Washington Spirit on July 12th. The Dash have managed to avoid playing any of the top three teams from the 2019 NWSL season.
In an attempt to get to know the Dash’s opponents a little bit better, here is one player to watch for each of the Dash’s preliminary opponents. They are a selection of intriguing talents that will look to make a splash at the inaugural Challenge Cup. Some new to the league, some new to the spotlight.
Rachel Corsie, Defender - Utah Royals
As the captain of the Scottish national team, and vice-president of the NWSL player’s association, Rachel Corsie is a leader on and off the pitch. Sadly for the imposing defender, her 2019 World Cup ended in calamity. Needing a win to proceed to the last 16, Scotland succumbed to a 3-3 draw against Argentina, despite having had a 3-0 lead in the 74th minute. Heartbreak in France, followed by just missing the playoffs with the Royals, meant Corsie ended her 2019 season tired and despondent. The center-back used the off season to recuperate and re-energize back home in Scotland. Falling back in love with the game, she spent the first couple of months of 2020 training with men’s SPL side Hearts. Corsie and the Royals had the joint most clean sheets in the league, with 10, and the second best defensive goals record with 25 conceded. Having lost esteemed teammate Becky Sauerbrunn - the reigning NWSL defender of the year - to the Portland Thorns; the Challenge Cup is well poised for Corsie to stake a claim as one of the most reliable defenders in the NWSL. Corsie excels in the air, her expert timing and ball judgement should make the Royals defense unwavering, even without their former captain. The resilient Scot will help her captain, Amy Rodriguez, lead by example.
Shirley Cruz, Midfielder - OL Reign
Calm, quality and leadership. After plying her trade in France, China and her native Costa Rica, the journeywoman arrives in the U.S. - to make her NWSL debut at the Challenge Cup - with a big reputation. This will be the third time the talismanic central midfielder has played under the newly appointed Reign manager, Farid Benstiti. Cruz and Benstiti won four titles together at Olympique Lyonnais between 2006 and 2010, before reuniting at Paris Saint-Germain from 2012 to 2016. The duo assure a winning mentality and will be seen to be laying the foundation of the new OL ownership regime in Seattle. Cruz will also be reunited with USWNT stalwart Allie Long, who played alongside Cruz in Paris, in 2010 and 2011. Expect Cruz to be essential at recycling possession, intelligently carving out space and storming the box with a late run.
Imani Dorsey, Forward - Sky Blue FC
Try and keep up with Imani. The 2018 NWSL Rookie of the Year is one of the few bright sparks in a Sky Blue FC side often devoid of hope. The team were dealt a cruel blow in the build up to the Challenge Cup, as stars Carli Lloyd, Mal Pugh and Caprice Dydasco all announced they will be unavailable through injury. The pressure is on Dorsey to make the step up from role player to key player, at the Challenge Cup this June. Versatile and swift, she recently earned her first call up to USWNT at the end of 2019. Reminiscent of Rachel Daly for the Houston Dash/England, Dorsey is a forward by nature who is used by Sky Blue FC as both a winger and as a left back. Her grace on the ball, quickness of thought and ambidextrous feet allow her to excel anywhere on the pitch. The Duke graduate’s determination to make a goal line clearance in the 87th minute, is as much a part of her game as her acute one touch finishing.
Ashley Sanchez, Forward - Washington Spirit
Bring on the major leagues. Following in the footsteps of Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan, Ashley Sanchez opted out of her senior year at UCLA in order to be drafted 4th overall by the Washington Spirit in 2020. In a Spirit side that likes to dictate the patterns of play, they led the NWSL with 79% pass completion in 2019, Sanchez will effectively be replacing Mallory Pugh in D.C. as a possible wide option. In three seasons in Los Angeles, Sanchez scored 23 goals and recorded a UCLA record 42 assists (legendary alum Lauren Holiday managed 31 assists in four seasons for the Bruins). Sanchez’ best qualities are an exquisite touch and her masterful control of the ball. Her low center of gravity and excellent balance lures defenders towards her, opening up important space for teammates to exploit. It is unlikely that Sanchez will go straight into the Spirit starting XI but squad depth and rotation will be key at the Challenge Cup. The rookie will be an impact player to keep an eye on.