September 27, 2020
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Story tips, concerns, questions?

 Dash are the first pro sports team to raise a trophy in the US during the pandemic. Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

By Robert Rios, Campus Editor

During this unwarranted time of a pandemic, the Houston Dash won their first championship ever, but fans of a new LA team announced a week before the game they will not have to wait as long as the Dash, which was six years.

Most new teams added to the NWSL will be able to get first round draft picks and with the way the league is growing and if this new LA franchise is given the right controls, could build a team that is dominant right out of the gate. Having a women’s soccer club does not just sound attractive, but makes sense as a destination for young women who want to play in Southern California and possibly for the United States Women’s National soccer team. Time is on their side as the clubs first kick won’t come till 2022.

This expansion team will have a 30-member ownership group which includes Natalie Portman, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Serena Williams and many more notable names. With LA joining the NWSL, teams like Houston show that there is a lifeline for fresher squads to go the distance. The approach to women’s soccer has changed drastically as more countries like the United States have given not just the sport, but also the women who compete for a chance to show their skills on the pitch. A soccer club in one of the biggest cities that has produced many of the best women’s players to the world would exponentially help promote the team and the sport. 

In regards to the women’s national team, this will further elevate the want for many young girls to play the sport. Even though USWNT is not recognized as much as men’s soccer and still growing, no one can deny that they are the far superior teams in women’s soccer around the world. The US women’s team has five FIFA World Cup appearances, with four of those being victories.

Los Angeles is already a hotbed for girls and women who play soccer as college programs such as USC and UCLA who have produced many soccer players. When these schools play each other, they have always drawn a high number of crowds to them at the LA Memorial Coliseum and to the campus grounds of Cal State Dominguez Hills California State University, Dominguez Hills at the currently named Dignity Health Sports Park. Both schools by way are constantly in championship contention and have a combined three national championships (one by the Bruins in 2013, two from the Trojans in 2007 and 2016).

This is not the first time Los Angeles would have a women’s club. From 2007 to 2010, the Los Angeles Sol played in the new defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league. So it should not be that hard to look for a fanbase who are thirsty for the sport. Considering the fact that one of the biggest rivalries in the MLS right now is between the five time MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy and the newest upstart Los Angeles Football Club.

Unlike fans of the new LA franchise in the NWSL, the Houston Dash waited long enough and were crowned the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup Champions Sunday, after defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Utah. 

The Challenge Cup was the NWSL’s restart after the regular season was paused by the coronavirus surge. It’s the first NWSL title for the Dash in the club’s seven-year history. They had never qualified for the playoffs prior this tournament.

Houston was able to get onto the board early as midfielder Kristie Mewis earned the team a penalty as she ran down the sideline on a counter-attack until she was pulled down in the Chicago penalty area. Her midfielder counterpart, Sophie Schmidt, a Canadian international, stepped up to take the penalty and converted the goal in the fifth minute.

Their second goal came in the 91st minute in stoppage time as the Dash quickly shattered Chicago’s hopes as Shea Groom used her attacking prowess to put away the game. The goal was her third of the tournament and helped her earn the Challenge Cup Championship Game MVP. Rachel Daly, the attacking England international for Houston, claimed (earned or won) the Golden Boot award for the tournament with her assist to Groom. 

“Grit and determination and courage, I could use all of those cliche words but they actually mean something within our team,” Daly said after the match. “After every post game I say, ‘Nothing breaks our circle, and if anything breaks our circle, we’ll lose.’ Today nothing broke our circle.”

The match was a battle of two different team tactics as the Red Stars committed to holding the ball and passing through the Houston defense. Chicago had their chances throughout the match but could not find the back of the net. 

After scoring the early goal, Houston sat back and waited for Chicago to push people forward down the field. After dispossessing the Red Stars, this would allow the Dash to sprint off into a counter attack which is what they did throughout the tournament. Like in their previous knockout round matches, the Dash did not concede a goal in the regulated 90 minutes of play as they did in the final. Their defense was solid and this was how most of Houston’s scoring opportunities came.

This was Chicago’s second time losing in a NWSL final as they lost to the North Carolina Courage in last year’s regular season championship game. They advanced to the playoffs from 2015 to 2018 but were eliminated each time in the semi-finals. 

“I think our challenge has been putting away our final crosses and getting some goals this tournament,” Chicago’s Julie Ertz said in her post game remarks. “So I think in the first half after [the penalty kick], we had a really good reaction to it. And it got harder because once they got up 1-0, they dropped really low in the box, so it’s hard to break down when a lot of numbers are in there. Obviously disappointing, but I’m so proud of the girls.”

Rio Tinto Stadium is home of the NWSL’s Utah Royals and Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake. The final was broadcast live on CBS.

Another team will join the NWSL next year as  Racing Louisville FC was announced and will be affiliated with the men’s United Soccer League team, Louisville City FC. The league will then have 10 teams.

The NWSL was the first professional team sport to return to action in the US after many of the leagues decided to stop competitive operations after the coronavirus outbreak developed. There has been no word on what the NWSL plans to do for the foreseeable future.

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