The number one seed North Carolina Courage are knocked out of the NWSL Challenge Cup after a stunning upset from the Portland Thorns on Friday.
The Thorns, the number eight seed heading into the knockout round, scored in the 68th minute off a Morgan Weaver tap-in to give the Thorns the 1-0 victory.
Raquel Rodriguez managed to hold up and shield the ball before whipping in a low, driven cross to Weaver. The rookie striker beat Addisyn Merrick to the spot and slotted a one-time finish past the goalkeeper. It was Weaver’s first goal for the Thorns.
The result would not have been possible without third string keeper Britt Eckerstrom recording eight saves during the match, including an incredible diving save that thwarted a Debinha free kick destined for the upper left corner. She stopped Debinha again in the 86th minute by rushing out to save a 1v1 opportunity.
Eckerstrom replaced Bella Bixby in the starting lineup after Bixby injured her right knee. Bixby had previously started every game for Portland in the Challenge Cup. First choice goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has not played during the tournament with injury troubles of her own.
Goalkeeping injuries forced Portland to name Nadine Angerer the emergency backup keeper for Friday’s match. Angerer, a two-time World Cup champion for Germany and 2013 FIFA World Player of the Year, has not played since 2015. She is currently in the bubble as the Thorns goalkeeping coach.
Portland did not need Angerer on the pitch during this game, though. Eckerstrom produced one of the best performances seen in the Challenge Cup so far.
Her saves will leave Courage striker Lynn Williams particularly frustrated after the game. Williams glided past defenders with ease past throughout the game but was unable to turn one of her numerous chances into a goal for the Courage. Williams had six shots in the match, and will finish the tournament with three goals.
North Carolina looked like they might finally break through the compact Thorns defense when Lindsey Horan exited the match with an injury in the 50th minute. Although the Thorns had fewer chances, they ultimately capitalized on their chances better than the disappointing Courage.
Goalkeeping heroics save Dash in penalties
The Houston Dash and Utah Royals once again proved they are two evenly matched sides by needing penalties to solve Friday night’s Challenge Cup quarterfinal game.
Jane Campbell, goalkeeper for Houston, saved two penalty kicks in a 0-0 (3-2 on penalties) match as the Dash win and advance to the semifinals to face the Portland Thorns.
Dash head coach James Clarkson may have favored his team to win once the match headed to penalties. Campbell is renowned for her ability to save penalty kicks, and she lived up to her reputation on Friday.
Houston was winning the shootout 3-2 after each team had four shots. Utah midfielder Veronica Boquete had to score to keep the Royals in the game, but Campbell guessed correctly to make her final save of the shootout.
“I think most players find penalty kicks to be nerve-racking,” said Campbell in a post-game interview. “For me, I love them. I told everyone to relax and believe in themselves.”
An attacking showcase in the preliminary round, the rematch was more tense and defensive. Neither team wanted to concede an advantage, and play often devolved into fouls that broke up play.
There were shouts for a red card from Houston in the second half when Utah’s Rachel Corsie intentionally dragged down striker Rachel Daly on a breakaway opportunity. Only a yellow card was issued on the play.
The NWSL Challenge Cup’s other quarterfinals take place on Saturday, with the Washington Spirit taking on Sky Blue FC and OL Reign taking on the Chicago Red Stars.
Portland will look for itts second consecutive win of the tournament on Wednesday when they face Houston in the semifinals. The winner will advance to the finals on July 26th.