Saturday, July 2, 2022

NWSL Challenge Cup Semifinals predictions: Spirit defense downs OL Reign; Current must score first vs. Courage

The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup continues as the semifinals kick off on Wednesday. OL Reign face the Washington Spirit while the Kansas City Current host the North Carolina Courage for a spot in the Challenge Cup final. The final four teams were the best of their regional groups after six weeks of divisional play, and will now face each other in knockout round action. Fans can watch the semifinal events across CBS Sports Network and Paramount+

Top ranked OL Reign will have to play their semifinal on the road after their home stadium was already scheduled for the Concacaf Champions League final. The Reign share Lumen Field with NFL‘s Seattle Seahawks and MLS side Seattle Sounders. 

After an initial attempt to find a suitable local option, OL were forced to play their semifinal on the road at Segra Field in Leesburg, Virgina — a home facility for the Spirit — with the silver lining of staying on the east coast to play their regular season opener. An additional update was made to ensure the semifinal was played in a suitable facility, and the game will now be played at Audi Field, a stadium the Spirit share with MLS side D.C. United.

Let’s make some bold predictions ahead of both semifinals.

Washington Spirit’s defense will steal the headlines

The Spirit field the league’s most lethal attack led by Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, and Ashley Sanchez. Hatch (5), Rodman (4), and Sanchez (2) rank first, tied for second, and tied for eight respectively in most goals during the Challenge Cup this season. Hatch also ranks third in the Challenge Cup with 3.1 expected goals.

The tem is also coming off a win in their regular season opener against OL Reign where the defense limited OL to just three shots attempts on target. Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury also came up with a crucial penalty stop on Rose Lavelle to prevent an early lead by the opposition.

The Spirit’s backline as also been relied upon to spearhead attacks in order to open up a game.  Center-back Sam Staab is a strong distributer from deep on the pitch, and Kelley O’Hara is frequently tasked with getting involved up on the flank to provide services into the box. O’hara leads Spirit defenders over six group games with pass percentage into the final third with 71.4 % and will be an asset if available to start.

First goal will define Kansas City’s approach

Kansas City impressed during group play in the central region, and North Carolina went undefeated in the East Region. The two sides dominated their groups in wildly different fashions. Kansas City had 46% possession and completed 70% of passes in the group stage, both lowest of any team, while North Carolina had 54% possession and completed 80% of passes in the group stage, both best of any team.

The Current’s ability to do more with less could see the club defending a lot more should they go up a goal fduring the semifinal, though the Courage’s attack may be too much to handle. Courage midfielder Debinha leads North Carolina with four goals during the Challenge Cup this season, she ranks tied for second in the competition, and ranks fourth in the competition with 3.0 expected goals.

Here’s how you can watch the upcoming games 

Challenge Cup semifinals viewing info

Wednesday, May 4

Semifinal 1

  • Who: OL Reign vs. Washington Spirit

  • Where: Audi Field — Washington, District of Columbia

  • When: 8 p.m. ET

  • TV: CBS Sports Network

Semifinal 2

  • Who: Kansas City Current vs. North Carolina Courage

  • Where: Children’s Mercy Park — Kansas City, Kansas

  • When: 8:30 p.m. ET

  • Stream: Paramount+

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