The Houston Dash and Utah Royals FC battled to 3-3 draw Tuesday afternoon in what proved to be an attacking clinic from both sides. A Rachel Daly brace from Houston’s star striker was primed to steal the headlines until rookie forward Tziarra King scored a header off the bench in the 89th minute.
King, the number eight overall pick in the 2020 NWSL College Draft, scored on her professional debut in what is sure to be a dream start for the NC State graduate.
Royals midfielder Veronica Boquete, already with a set piece goal just seven minutes earlier to make the scoreline 3-2, served a free kick into the box where King was able to score from just a few yards out. The goal signified a two-goal comeback in a game with many lead changes.
After Utah veteran Diana Matheson opened the scoring, Daly reversed the narrative by scoring directly before and after halftime to put herself in the Golden Boot conversation.
Controversy erupted in the 60th minute as Daly’s potential hat trick was called back by the referee for goalkeeper interference. The Dash striker blocked goalkeeper Abby Smith’s punt, and dribbled by her to slot home her third goal. Daly likely argued that Smith dropped the ball before kicking, similar to a dropkick, making Daly’s block legal.
Regardless, Shea Groom finished a powerful shot in the 67th minute to beat the keeper for her first goal of the Challenge Cup, and give Houston a 3-1 lead.
The six goal explosion is the highest scoring match of the tournament so far.
U.S. Women’s National Team defender Kelley O’Hara was an injury absence for Utah. Christen Press withdrew from the Royal’s roster for the tournament due to COVID-19 precautionary efforts.
OL Reign and Sky Blue FC evenly matched
The final ‘opening game’ of the tournament highlighted the defensive performances of both teams, as OL Reign and Sky Blue FC held each other to a scoreless draw on Wednesday night.
The 0-0 encounter marked the first clean sheets of the Challenge Cup. The teams struggled to impose the final bit of brilliance needed in the final third, although there were promising build-up play in spurts from both clubs.
“I think we showed some positive things, and I’m happy with the shutout,” said veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni in a post-game interview. “Obviously, we have a lot to do still, but I’m happy with the result.”
Sky Blue acquired Zerboni in January in a trade with North Carolina Courage. She accumulated 65 appearances for the Courage, and won three consecutive NWSL Shields.
Nahomi Kawasumi had Sky Blue’s best chance of the night right before halftime. Finding herself at point blank shooting range after receiving a cross, Kawasumi took a split second too long to line up her shot. Lauren Barnes, defender for Reign, sacrificed her body in a diving effort to block the potential shot on goal.
The teams went into halftime tied at 7 shots apiece, but Reign began to separate themselves with a 6-1 shot advantage in the second half.
Still, the Sky Blue defense held strong, thanks to four saves from goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
In the 86th minute, a header flicked on behind Sky Blue’s back line led the speedy Jasmine Spencer through on goal. The substitute shrugged off the last defender, but her shot was too close to Sheridan’s outstretched hands.
Allie Long, a U.S. Women’s National Team player since 2014, played the full 90 minutes.
Megan Rapinoe withdrew from the Challenge Cup due to COVID-19 concerns. Sky Blue’s Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh are battling injuries that prevented them from traveling to Utah.
All four teams finish their first matches with one point and sit tied for 3rd in the standings. Utah’s next match is against Sky Blue FC, while Houston will play OL Reign. Both games will take place on July 1st, and can be watched on CBS All Access.