Thursday, May 19, 2022

NWSL Challenge Cup: Houston Dash, Kansas City Current stage comeback victories to shake up Central Division

The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup rolls on as the central region kicked off week 2 with a shake up of the group. Kansas City now leads the central division after a 2-1 win over Chicago Red Stars, and Houston Dash earned their first win of the tournament with a 3-2 victory over Louisville. Fans can watch Challenge Cup games live and on demand with Paramount+.

The third annual Challenge Cup features all 12 clubs divided into three groups, with six matches played among the east, central, and west regions. Winners of the three groups and a top second place finisher will advance to semifinals to determine two finalists.

The central division provided some strong individual performances and second half comebacks, let’s take a look at how the Kansas City and Houston changed the picture in the group after week 2.

Kansas City change of pace leads to first ever away win

The Current were the visiting side for the second consecutive week of the Challenge Cup and earned their first road victory with a come from behind victory over the Chicago Red Stars. They managed the comeback without star striker Lynn Williams and Victoria Pickett for the match, and with midfield star Sam Mewis on a 45 minute limit. 

Kansas City went down in the first half after conceding a deflected goal in the 22′ minute but after enduring pressure from the Red Stars in the first half, they came out of halftime and were able to slow down the pace of the match, lulling Chicago into a more laconic pace which facilitated the comeback by Kansas City.

The Current’s lullaby was further aided by subs at halftime with defenders Elizabeth Ball and Kate Del Fava coming on the field and changing the complexion of the match. As Kansas City continued a slow tempo, a poor clearance from Chicago off a throw-in led to good Current fullback Hallie Mace finding herself in great position as she scored a goal to equalize just before the hour mark.

Mace further impacted the game as Kansas City completed their come from behind victory as she recorded the assist on the game winning goal from Kristen Hamilton. The win was the Current’s first ever road win and they now lead the Central group with four points on the table.

The stats really make the Current’s change in approach apparent. Out of the 473 passes Chicago attempted, only 195 came in the second half. This wasn’t really because Current had more possession but rather because both teams were playing fewer passes as a result of the slower pace. The Current played 391 total passes but only 158 of them came in the second half. This pace worked in the Current’s favor, as alongside the slowdown they greatly increased their attacking production. A frustrated Chicago conceded six shots for 0.65 xG after the halftime break, which was significantly more than they give up in the first half where the held Kansas City to only two shots and 0.05 xG.

Maria Sanchez leads Houston Dash to three goal comeback

The Dash faced Racing Louisville on the road and got off to a nightmare start in the first half. A poor back pass from Sophie Schmidt and a failed clearance from Katie Naugton lead to an opening goal from Lousiville’s Kristen Davis in the 16th minute, and Racing forward Jess McDonald extended the lead just before halftime with a crafty volley.

The first half performance was quickly dashed into oblivion as Houston took advantage of Racing’s Emily Fox-less backline. Maria Sanchez scored a goal and torched the flanks to provide the assist on an equalizer from Marisa Viggiano. Houston’s ability to do more with less paid off with their concession of possession and ability to absorb pressure completed their comeback after Dash captain Daly converted a penalty kick just past the hour mark. It was a stunning nine minutes which took the Dash from being down two goals to a 3-2 lead which they’d see out to the final whistle.

What was truly remarkable about this match was that despite having a two goal lead, Louisville was simply unable to stop the Dash from counterattacking. Over the course of the match Louisville had almost 53% possession but they weren’t able to use the ball to create many good opportunities. They took only 10 shots for 0.60 xG over the course of the match. The Dash meanwhile had less of the ball but created 12 shots for 1.65 xG. Louisville were unable to keep the Dash from slicing them apart on the counterattack, which is the last thing that should happen when a team is defending a two goal lead.

Central still up for grabs 

The wins from Kansas City and Houston have changed the standings in the central region a bit. Kansas City are now leaders, while the Dash are in third place with their recent win. Four games remain among the teams, and the group is still up for taking as the central division returns to action next week on Wednesday, March 30.

Central Region

TEAM

MP

W

D

L

GD

PTS

Kansas City Current

2

1

1

+1

4

Chicago Red Stars

2

1

1

+1

3

Houston Dash

2

1

1

-1

3

Racing Louisville FC

2

1

1

-1

1

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