In the second to last UKG NWSL Challenge Cup match week, the postseason picture has begun to unfold with OL Reign clinching the West Division.
NWSL Challenge Cup West Division news: Balcer nets penalty at home against San Diego as OL Reign secure the first playoff berth, McCaskill scores two in ACFC win
OL Reign vs. San Diego Wave — 1-0, OL Reign
For the first time since June 28, OL Reign took the pitch in the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup. Having not lost a single cup contest so far in 2023, Laura Harvey’s side had a chance to punch the first ticket to the Challenge Cup semifinals.
The Seattle side seeks its first-ever Challenge Cup final after losing to Washington Spirit on penalties in the 2022 semifinals despite going unbeaten in the group stage. It took until the 71′ for the home team to find the breakthrough, but at the end of the day, next week will feature a lot less stress. Though the top seed in the cup playoffs is still up for grabs, the defending NWSL Shield winners will be able to rotate even more against Portland at home once again.
Captain Bethany Balcer netted her sixth goal of the campaign across all competitions in just 15 starts. Substitute Ryanne Brown earned the spot kick just six minutes after coming on for Olivia Athens. Balcer calming took the penalty, smashing it past Shae Yanez into the top right corner of the net.
The defeat for San Diego extends its winless streak to eight contests across both competitions. Not only did the striker find the back of the net for the third time in the club’s last five matches, the Reign pitched together its fifth consecutive clean sheet in the Challenge Cup.
Harvey’s team has not allowed a single goal in this newly formatted cup tournament. Regular seasons and group stages have never been a problem for the Washington outfit. Finishing the job has. In what is now Megan Rapinoe’s last season, the Reign head into the final four of the Challenge Cup with extra motivation.
Angel City FC vs. Portland Thorns— 2-1, Angel City
In miraculous fashion at BMO Stadium, Becki Tweed’s Angel City FC are still alive for a semifinal berth. The in-form southern California side wasted no time in front of its home fans. Right-wing back Jasmyne Spencer delivered an absolute peach of a ball into the box in a place where only Savannah McCaskill could get her head onto it.
It was an extremely back-and-forth affair for the rest of the half until the Thorns pieced together a brilliant equalizer that started all the way in the backline. Hannah Betfort’s sensational turn was the catalyst as she and Natalia Kuikka combined to set up Morgan Weaver to slot it past goalkeeper Angelina Anderson.
With the goal just before halftime, the momentum could have very well shifted in the favor of Portland. Scarlett Camberos set up her team just outside the box to erase the equalizer minutes before the whistle for the end of 45 minutes. McCaskill made no mistake again. A stunning free-kick put the Thorns behind the eight-ball once again. It was her fourth goal of the campaign, and third in her last two contests.
The final stages of the second half were all about the rookie goalkeeper Anderson. The former 27th overall selection in the 2023 NWSL Draft made five saves from the 84′ through the conclusion of stoppage time. The University of California product saved a spot kick by Olivia Moultrie, diving to her right to keep the Los Angeles outfit in the conversation for a top-four spot going into the sixth Challenge Cup match week.
At the age of 22, in her first start professionally, Anderson looked right at home. This match just continues ACFC’s positive run of form heading into August. With former captain of the French national team Amandine Henry making the bench for the first time, it is only going to go up from here.