(#3) OL Reign 0 (3)
(#6) Chicago Red Stars 0 (4)
(Chicago Red Stars advance on penalties)
NWSL Challenge Cup (quarterfinal)
July 18, 2020
Zions Bank Stadium – Herriman, UT
After finishing 1-1-2 with 5 points and the 3rd seed, OL Reign enter the NWSL Challenge Cup quarterfinals still searching for an identity on offense, and with a bend but rarely break defense.
Chicago Red Stars completed the group phase in a log jam of 1-2-1 4 point teams, placing them into the 6th seed. Injuries and roster management played a role in the group phase, but Chicago has plenty of experience and talent to potentially make a run in a short tournament that seems much more wide open after Portland upset North Carolina.
Both sides were missing national team starters due to injury at kickoff. But, both sides also fielded starting elevens with significant big tournament elimination match experience.
With the tournament phase beginning with the quarterfinals, the line ups were as close to a preferred eleven as could be.
Early play found OL Reign continuing to absorb and counter, with Chicago willing to press forward to try and get the early goal. By the time of the first hydration break however, Reign had managed to spend some time in the Chicago defensive third and create some chances, with Jessica Fishlock nearly scoring on a right footed shot.
Much like all of the quarterfinals, the match went to the interval scoreless. Would it also go to penalties or not was to be determined.
Similar to the first half, Chicago came out attacking early in the second half before Reign began to assert itself and push opportunities forward.
Many matches in the NWSL Challenge Cup have turned on the use and timing of the five available substitutes. Unlike most matches, neither coach made a halftime or early second half substitutions. The sole goal scorer in the group phase for OLR Bethany Balcer finally entered the match in place of Fishlock in the 67th. Both coaches then began and continued to sub in attacking options, not playing for penalties.
With the match remaining scoreless at the second half hydration break the notion of a single goal or penalties determining who would advance became increasingly likely.
Late chances didn’t pan out. Players were down with cramps. The five matches in a short time span in the heat and elevation had to have been factors in the quarterfinals. Regulation was a goalless draw and the cruelty of penalties were to decide.
Chicago was perfect in its four spot kicks with OL Reign missing on two, giving Red Stars the opportunity to play Sky Blue FC in the semifinals.
With this match in the books, Chicago joined the Portland Thorns FC, Houston Dash, and Sky Blue FC in the semis on Wednesday.