Where EAST meets the Northwest
CHALLENGE CUP. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) hopes to become one
of the first American professional sports leagues to return to action with a
Challenge Cup set to begin June 27, 2020. Pictured is North Carolina Courage
fullback Abby Erceg playing in a NWSL match against the Portland Thorns at
Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. (AR Photo/Jody Lim, File)
NWSL. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) hopes to become one of the
first American professional sports leagues to return to action with a Challenge
Cup set to begin June 27, 2020. Pictured is forward Yuka Momiki playing for
Japan during a SheBelieves Cup soccer match against Brazil on March 2, 2019 in
Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)
SEASON SUBSTITUTED. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is planning a
Challenge Cup consisting of a 25-game tournament held entirely in Utah to mark
the return to action of its nine clubs. Pictured is Sky Blue FC defender Caprice
Dydasco dribbling the ball during a NWSL match against the Orlando Pride in
Harrison, New Jersey, in this September 29, 2019 file photo. (AP Photo/Steve
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #07 (June 1, 2020), pages 10 & 11.
NWSL Challenge Cup to spotlight smaller Asian talent pool
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
Thanks to COVID-19, most sports leagues worldwide are either frozen in time
or slowly thawing out. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) hopes to join
the latter group by possibly becoming one of the first American professional
sports leagues to return to action with a Challenge Cup in late June. When it
begins, Asian-American sports fans will have fewer Asian NWSL players to watch,
but the ones who remain are sure to help their teams succeed.
As I wrote last November, Asian and Asian-American players are getting harder
to find in the NWSL, and this past offseason made matters worse. The biggest
loss occurred when Samantha Kerr, the league’s best player, signed with Chelsea
Born to Indian and Australian parents, Kerr won the NWSL Golden Boot three
years in a row, the league MVP twice, and set NWSL records in both career goals
and goals per season. She never won a NWSL title, but joining Chelsea gave the
club an excellent shot at capturing the Women’s Super League championship.
Other teams lost eastern players, too, like the Houston Dash, who waived
forward Kyah Simon. Simon became the first player with aboriginal roots to score
in a World Cup when she scored twice in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. But she was
beset by injuries and had a hard time establishing herself in the NWSL.
Instead, Simon returned to Australia’s W-League, where she plays for
Melbourne City FC alongside Lydia Williams, another former NWSL player with
aboriginal heritage. Williams was a great goalkeeper for several NWSL teams,
including Reign FC last season (the club is now called OL Reign after an
ownership change between seasons). But when she was injured, Casey Murphy slid
into the starting role, leaving Williams to seek a contract elsewhere.
OL Reign lost another Asian player when they chose not to re-sign defensive
midfielder Rumi Utsugi, who had lost her starting role. The Reign, however,
announced a recent acquisition that will raise the spirits of all their fans,
including those of us following players from the east.
In May, the club signed Japanese-American forward Yuka Momiki, who led Nippon
TV Beleza to five titles in Japan’s Nadeshiko League. Since joining the club in
2011, they also won four Empress’s Cups, three Nadeshiko League Cups, and the
first-ever Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Club Championship in 2019.
Momiki herself was in Nadeshiko’s Best XI in 2016 and 2017 and also starts for
Momiki is known as a playmaker with laser-precise passing and impeccable
timing. Not dazzling or showy, the left-footed Momiki makes those around her
better, and she has plenty of Reign talent surrounding her. In fact, her signing
creates a glut of seven forwards, including Momiki, Megan Rapinoe, Sofia Huerta,
As the best fit on the right side with an unmatched skillset, Momiki should
get plenty of minutes, but she may struggle for consistency unless the team
commits to her or trades away her competition. However the situation shakes out,
the Reign will have an excellent opportunity to shine at the proposed summer
Another favorite in the tournament, the North Carolina Courage, has fullback
Abby Erceg, who has captained two teams to NWSL championships. Erceg, who has
Croatian and Maori roots, is also the captain for the New Zealand national team.
The defensive leader began her NWSL career with Chicago in 2013, helping the
squad to rise from fifth to second place in the league. Traded to the Western
New York Flash in November of 2015, Erceg became team captain and led the Flash
to its first and only NWSL championship in 2016.
When the Flash became the North Carolina Courage, their winning ways
continued. With Erceg as captain, the Courage have reached the NWSL championship
match the past three seasons, winning the last two. With Erceg anchoring the
back line and a roster largely unchanged from last season, the Courage have a
great chance to win the Challenge Cup.
At the other end of the NWSL table, two Asian players should bolster the
hopes of the league’s perennial cellar-dwellers, Sky Blue FC. The club has never
improved on its fourth-place finish in 2013, the league’s inaugural season. The
worst season was 2018, when they set a team record for futility, winning a
single game against 17 losses. They weren’t much better in 2019, winning five
games and losing 14.
But the club is looking up this season, thanks to improved practice
facilities, a larger stadium, and new
leadership. They will also lean heavily on their talented core, two of whom
joined the team last year.
The Reign traded Japanese midfielder Nahomi Kawasumi to Sky Blue before last
season, and she appeared in 19 of the team’s 24 matches. Before this season, Sky
Blue re-signed Kawasumi, amid acclaim from team leadership.
Head coach Freya Coombe said, "Naho is very technical and calm on the ball,
which suits the style of the team. She is a great teammate and a fan favorite."
The team’s general manager also praised Kawasumi’s "veteran lead-by-example
presence," calling her "an absolute professional" who "brings so much steady
Behind Kawasumi in the Sky Blue formation — though sometimes ahead of her in
an attack — is Caprice Dydasco of Hawai‘i. Acquired in a trade with the
Washington Spirit, the offensive-minded fullback set a career high in minutes
last season, starting 23 of 24 matches.
She also played all over the pitch, from the right and left back spots to
one-game stints as right wing and defensive midfielder. Dydasco’s flexibility
and positive attitude will be crucial to the team’s success, though expectations
should be moderated. Currently, eight of the nine clubs in the NWSL tournament
will advance from the first round; Blue Sky would be delighted to be among these
Much as reducing a sauce concentrates its flavors, the NWSL has lowered its
overall numbers of Asian players, but those who remain are high impact. Losing
Kerr is a disappointment, but Asian-American sports fans still have plenty of
talented players to watch beginning June 27.
* * *
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #07 (June 1, 2020), pages 10 & 11.
NWSL season will be played in Utah without fans
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced last week that the 2020
NWSL Challenge Cup will mark the return to action of its nine clubs.
The cup will include a 25-game tournament scheduled to kick off June 27, 2020
at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. While spectators will not be in
attendance, fans in the U.S. and Canada will be able to watch all the action via
the CBS All Access subscription service, with replays aired on CBS Sports
Network. The opening match and the championship game will air live on CBS. Fans
outside the U.S. and Canada will be able to stream the full tournament on
The tournament, presented by P&G and Secret, marks the league’s first
competition since the 2019 championship game that saw the North Carolina Courage
defeat the Chicago Red Stars to become back-to-back NWSL champs.
The format of the tournament will feature the league’s nine clubs each
playing four games in the preliminary rounds to determine seeding. The top eight
teams will advance to the quarterfinals, when the tournament becomes a knockout
competition. The semifinals and final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in
Sandy, Utah, with the championship game slated for July 26.
A full tournament schedule, including game times and broadcast details, will
be published soon.
The NWSL’s Medical Task Force, comprised of a team doctor from each of the
league’s nine teams, has worked tirelessly over the last nine weeks, in
coordination with public health officials, to develop thorough and detailed
medical and testing protocols to ensure the safest environment for a return to
play and competition. Each player, official, and essential staff member will be
tested 48 hours prior to departure for Utah and upon arrival and will be subject
to consistent testing, temperature readings, and symptom review throughout their
stay in Utah. The full protocols have received unanimous support from the NWSL
board of directors and the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA).
"As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new
reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as
our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring
professional soccer back to the United States," said NWSL commissioner Lisa
Baird. "This exciting monthlong tournament will showcase our league’s talented
players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come
to expect from the NWSL."
Building on the momentum of a record-breaking 2019 and the growing success of
women’s sports, on and off the field, the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup is a unique
opportunity for players to return to competition with the unanimous support of
the league owners and the players association.
"The NWSLPA, working closely alongside NWSL, is excited to provide players
the opportunity to return to sport, while also securing compensation and other
necessities to make sure players’ concerns, feedback, and safety are at the
forefront of all conversations," said NWSLPA executive directors Yael Averbuch
and Brooke Elby. "As the plans for the tournament unfolded, it was our priority
as the NWSLPA to protect our players, and we feel that NWSL shares those
The "international-style" tournament allows the league to safely return to
the pitch and will be hosted by Dell Loy Hansen, owner of Utah Royals FC, who
will accommodate all housing, training, and competition needs for the league’s
teams and create an "NWSL Village" to control as much of the environment as
"With the efforts of our frontline workers, our state’s early adoption of
preventative measures, and our facilities at Zions Bank Real Academy, Rio Tinto
Stadium, and America First Credit Union Field, Utah is uniquely prepared to host
the nine teams in the NWSL and put on a tremendous tournament," said Hansen.
"With the full support of the governor and the medical experts in our community,
we are thrilled to bring the tournament to Utah."
Commissioner Baird and Hansen have met with Utah governor Gary Herbert,
lieutenant governor Spencer Cox, the Utah Sports Commission, and local health
officials, and all parties have enthusiastically endorsed the way forward.
To learn more about the upcoming tournament, please visit <www.portlandthorns.com>.
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