Upstart Dash win the Challenge Cup 2-0 over the Red Stars

Savannah Mccaskill, Brittany Ratcliffe

Chicago Red Stars’ Savannah McCaskill (9) heads the ball in the direction of the goal as Houston Dash’s Katie Naughton (25) defends during the first half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer finals match Sunday, July 26, 2020, in Sandy, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SANDY, Utah (AP) — Sophie Schmidt scored on an early penalty kick and Shea Groom added a stoppage-time goal to give the Houston Dash the Challenge Cup tournament title with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday.

The month-long tournament was National Women’s Soccer League re-boot after the regular season was shut down by the coronavirus outbreak. Houston, in its seventh year in the league, had never previously made the playoffs.

The Red Stars went to the NWSL championship game last season, but were routed 4-0 by the North Carolina Courage.

Houston was aggressive from the start. Kristie Mewis was on the run when she was fouled by Kayla Sharples for a Dash penalty kick. Schmidt nailed the PK in the fifth minute. It was the tournament’s first penalty kick in regulation.

The Red Stars nearly drew even in the 15th, but Savannah McCaskill’s header off a rebound hit the post.

McCaskill had another chance from distance in the 67th minute, but Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell tipped it up and over the crossbar.

The Dash took a hit in the 29th minute when Mewis had to come out of the game with a hamstring injury. She sobbed as she was subbed out of the game.

The NWSL was the first professional team sport to return in the United States. Eight of the league’s nine teams have been sequestered in Utah for the duration of the tournament, which started on June 27.

The league’s ninth team, the Orlando Pride, withdrew shortly before the start because of positive COVID-19 tests. But there were no positive tests in the so-called bubble in Utah for the duration of the event.

The Red Stars were the tournament’s sixth seed going into the knockout round. They advanced to the semifinals on penalties after a scoreless draw with OL Reign, then held off Sky Blue 3-2 on Wednesday.

Chicago had just two total goals in the tournament before the outburst against Sky Blue.

The Dash are the upstart underdogs of the Challenge Cup, after finishing seventh in the NWSL last season. English national Rachel Daly led Houston with three goals in the tournament and was the Challenge Cup’s most valuable player.

Daly had a chance to increase Houston’s lead in the 73rd minute, but couldn’t quite get set after a cross from Nichelle Prince and the shot went wide.

Daly assisted on Groom’s goal in the 91st minute. It was Groom’s third goal of the tournament.

Sunday’s game at Rio Tinto Stadium, home of the NWSL’s Utah Royals and Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake, was broadcast nationally on CBS, the league’s new television partner this season.

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