Red Stars bring depth and a new, talented front line to Utah for the NWSL Challenge Cup

The Red Stars arrived in Utah on Wednesday and will begin tournament play against the Washington Spirit at 9 p.m. Saturday (CBS All Access).

SHARE Red Stars bring depth and a new, talented front line to Utah for the NWSL Challenge Cup

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The NWSL Challenge Cup begins Saturday despite the Orlando Pride dropping out after 10 members of the organization, including six players, tested positive for COVID-19. 

A second round of testing reportedly produced results inconsistent with the first, but regardless, the Pride will not be participating in the Challenge Cup.

The Red Stars are in Utah with a roster full of new faces and fresh talent. 

“Last year’s team had a lot of continuity from the year before,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “A little bit more turnover this year, a little bit more unknowns. But we still have a solid core and a solid nucleus.” 

The league reworked the schedule after the Pride announced they would not participate. All eight teams will advance through the preliminary round to a seeded quarterfinal round beginning July 17.

The Red Stars arrived in Utah on Wednesday and will begin tournament play against the Washington Spirit at 9 p.m. Saturday (CBS All Access). They’ll follow that with matches against the Portland Thorns on Wednesday; the North Carolina Courage, the reigning NWSL champs, on July 5; and the Utah Royals on July 12.

Semifinals will begin July 22 followed by the championship July 26.

Rules and regulations also were announced by the league earlier in the week, and the big change is that there will be no extra time in any match during the tournament. In the knockout stages, penalty kicks will determine the winner.

Dames added talent to the front line this offseason after the departure of Sam Kerr, who led the league in goals last season with 18, and drafted a class of young defenders. 

Newcomers Kealia Watt, Rachel Hill and Makenzy Doniak provide depth to an attack that also includes Yuki Nagasato, Katie Johnson and Michele Vasconcelos, who will make her return to the field after tearing her ACL last season. 

“Our team is very dynamic this year,” Hill said. “It’s going to look different, but I think we’ll have the same success. The wing players will play a bigger role because you don’t have that huge presence in the nine, but it’s going to be just as effective.”

All of the Red Stars’ USWNT players opted in for the Challenge Cup. Combine that with the team’s veteran presence and rookie talent, and the Red Stars have one of the deepest rosters in the field.

Defender Tierna Davidson and midfielder Danielle Colaprico both are battling injuries, which deals a blow to the team’s depth. 

Dames said Davidson will not be available for the first three games of the tournament and will be reassessed then. Colaprico will play a limited amount in the first two games to see how she responds, Dames said. 

The most important focal points are staying healthy, avoiding injuries and playing good soccer. All decisions about the team will be made with these things in mind, in that order, Dames said. 

Zoe Morse is at the top of Dames’ list of rookies whom he expects to have breakout performances. 

“Morse will play a pretty big role for us before this event is done,” Dames said. “She’s done really well in the center back for us.”

Notable players who will not be participating in the Challenge Cup include USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd and Mal Pugh. 

There is potential to see these players suited up for a fall season, but NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird still hasn’t specified whether this tournament is in place of a season. 

“We have not made any decisions,” Baird said. “We are continuing to look at alternatives and evaluate them. One thing we’d very much like to see is what would be the regulations from the governors and the states involving fans at games and the ability of us to do anything with social-distance guidelines. That will be very important to any kind of future planning.” 

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