UKG NWSL Challenge Cup: Examining the two semifinal matchups

The NWSL Challenge Cup has reached its second to last stage with four teams fighting for one prize. Here's everything you need to know about the final four and how they match up.
OL Reign v San Diego Wave FC - 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup
OL Reign v San Diego Wave FC - 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages
1 of 2

There is a long wait this week for NWSL soccer. Coming off an eventual week 18, the league transitions to two win-or-go-home fixtures in the fourth-ever Challenge Cup. The competition began with 12 teams on April 19. After five months of thrilling group stage action, the semifinals are here.

Enjoy the last three contests of the Challenge Cup because this is it. Well, at least for now. Confirmed by The Equalizer a few weeks ago, the NWSL is going to pivot to a one-off game between the Shield winners and league champions to kick off the campaign.

The rules for the final three contests are not much different than what fans saw throughout the group stage. No extra time will be played. If there is a draw, the contest will go straight to a penalty shoot-out. A five minute break will be provided to the teams between the conclusion of 90 minutes and the beginning of the spot kicks. It took 17 penalty kicks last year to decide one half of the final as Washington Spirit outlasted this season's No. 1 seed OL Reign in the nation's capital.

Three group winners, and the club outside of those three with the most points compete for a prize that will be given out for the first time. A more substantial cut of the historic prize pool of $1.1 million is up for grabs on top of the cup itself. Only one of the clubs left has reached the pinnacle of this competition, making this anybody's game.

Here is a look at both matchups and what to expect with just two spots available in what is going to be the last Challenge Cup final for now.

Previewing the 2023 UKG NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals

No. 1 seed: OL Reign vs. No. 4 seed: Racing Louisville

Date: Wednesday, September 6, 2023 at 10:00 p.m. EST

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

No team is riding more of a high coming off week 18 than Racing Louisville. While OL Reign edged a 10-player Orlando Pride side, the Kentucky outfit came back down by a goal against the top-seeded Portland Thorns at the half. Racing netted two goals within a four-minute span to pull out all three points for just the fifth time all regular season. Thembi Kgatlana's brilliant composure and footwork at the top of the box allowed her to find the space within Portland's defense to execute the eventual game-winner. If anybody in the league is going to score against the Seattle side for the first time in the Challenge Cup this season, the South African would be at the top of the list.

Even though Racing has to travel to the northwest corner of the United States for a mid-week match, that is exactly what the doctor ordered ahead of a knockout contest. Without Savannah DeMelo, Jaelin Howell, and Nadia Nadim, the purple and black earned a well-deserved triumph at home. DeMelo should be back for the mid-week fixture after missing out against the Thorns due to card accumulation.

That battle in the midfield that consists of DeMelo, Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle, and Emily Sonnett among others is an intriguing watch. Lavelle is going to be at the center of everything the Seattle side does. The USWNT star has been brilliant in her two matches since returning from the World Cup.

It will be the first time Racing has reached this stage of the competition, having combined for just one victory in the last two cup tournaments. On the flip side, OL Reign aim to progress to its first-ever NWSL Challenge Cup final. Similar to the No. 2 seed Kansas City Current, there will be no need to travel after its regular weekend league fixture.

Lumen Field is an extremely tough place to earn a result, especially at the end of a campaign. Lavelle and the Reign may be the favorites, but it is difficult to bet against a team that pulled out a victory over the defending champions days prior.

Prediction: OL Reign 1-1 Racing Louisville (LOU wins on penalties 4-3)