NWSL Challenge Cup: who’s in, who’s out and which players should you look out for?
The National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup is ready to kick off this Saturday to become the first league back in North America.
However, some of the league’s stars will not be playing. The tournament was not obligatory for players to participate in due to the risk of coronavirus.
This risk was highlighted earlier this week after Orlando Pride were forced to withdraw after six of their players tested positive for the disease. This means Pride stars and US national players Ashlyn Harris, Alex Morgan and Ali Krieger will not take the field at the weekend.
Including Krieger, Morgan and Harris, nine of the World Cup winning squad will not be taking part in the tournament.
Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press have all opted out of the tournament due to the risk of coronavirus and increased threat of sustaining an injury.
Press said in a statement: “It is deeply painful not to be able to play the game I love, and to watch the broader effects of the global pandemic on our league, sports and our world.
“Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this tournament."
And Carli Lloyd, Mal Pugh and Caprice Dydasco are all not able to take part due to injury. Lloyd has a minor knee injury, Pugh has a hip injury and Dydasco has torn her right ACL.
And while these stars will be missed in the league’s return there is still an abundance of talent ready to kick off sport in North America.
Here are some players you should look out for.
North Carolina Courage
Defender Abby Dahlkemper has impressed both on the club field and international stage over the past few years.
Not only did she win the World Cup last summer, she won the NWSL title with her club last October.
Forward Jessica McDonald is also bringing international stardom to the tournament.
The 32 year-old also starred in last season’s final and scored a goal in the Championship game when Courage beat Chicago Red Stars 4-0.
Chicago Red Stars
Julie Ertz is another star from the World Cup winning squad and a stand out defender for the Red Stars.
She started all 16 games for the club last season and played 1,440 minutes as she was not subbed off once.
Kealia Watt (formely Ohai) is one to look out for as she transferred to Chicago in the break between seasons from Houston Dash.
The forward scored 28 goals in the 114 games she played for Dash so it will be interesting to see if her good form continues under her new club.
Midfielder Brianna Visalli will want to make her mark as she moved from Women’s Super League club Birmingham City a few weeks ago.
It will be exciting to see how she fairs in a new tournament in a different country.
And Katie Naughton transferred from Chicago in the season break. The defender played for the Red Stars 88 times and scored one goal.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle is another US international who shone on the international stage last summer.
She scored a sensational goal in the World Cup final against The Netherlands and will look to replicate her stellar performance in this tournament.
Another one to watch is defender Kaiya McCullough. She is not only a great soccer player but she’s also a strong voice for social change.
She has recently spoken about how she took a knee in 2017 for racial inequality and how she is happy US Soccer reversed their ban on athletes protesting.
Becky Sauerbrunn is a defender who is a legend in US soccer. She has 174 international caps to her name and recently left the Utah Royals where she was captain.
She has won back-to-back World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal.
Christine Sinclair is a forward every defender will be determined to stop. She made history this year as she became the highest international goalscorer, male or female, of all time.
She scored her 185th goal for Canada in January against St Kitts & Nevis in an Olympic qualifier.
Yet another World Cup winner who will star in the Challenge Cup is Royals’ Kelley O’Hara.
While she only played four games for her club last season she is an international talent who will be looking to make her mark in Utah.
And French international Aminata Diallo will also be an exciting athlete to keep an eye on.
She is currently on loan to the Royals from Paris Saint-Germain. The Royals signed Diallo to add depth to their midfield.
Alana Cook has been drafted in by OL Reign specifically for the tournament so they will be hoping she will make a splash.
She has played internationally for the US and is on loan from French club Paris Saint-Germain.
Adrienne Jordan will be keen to get off the mark running in the Challenge Cup as she has recently signed for Reign from WSL club Birmingham City.
Sky Blue FC
24 year-old Canadian international Kailen Sheridan will be using her skills in goal to keep keen strikers at bay.
Sky Blue has been Sheridan’s only professional club after being drafted in the NWSL College draft in 2017.
And finally, Ghana international Jennifer Cudjoe is another new signing who will want to stamp her name in the NWSL.
Cudjoe has signed a six month deal with the club and bosses have said they were surpised by her talent and so snapped her up ahead of the tournament.