NWSL Challenge Cup Power Rankings: Why every team in Utah is chasing North Carolina Courage

    After months of preparations, NWSL is making its return as the first professional team sports league to play in the United States. You can catch all of the action this Saturday on CBS and CBS All Access with the reigning champs North Carolina Courage taking on the Portland Thorns at 12:30 p.m. ET and then the Chicago Red Stars taking on the Washington Spirit at 10 p.m. ET. For more on the complete schedule and start times, click here. For more on how to watch every game, click here.

    The league made some adjustments to the Challenge Cup after Orlando Pride withdrew from the event due to multiple players and staff testing positive with COVID-19. After the minor realignment, eight teams will compete in group stages and then eventual knockout rounds. 

    Here are how the teams look ahead of opening weekend:

    1. North Carolina Courage: Reigning NWSL champions. Multi-award winning team. Much of their 2019 championship squad is returning, including some highly-ranked prospects. Despite the unique tourney format, all clubs are still chasing North Carolina.

    2. Chicago Red Stars: The only team other than the Courage to have multiple allocated U.S. national team players return to compete in the tournament. If their young talent can get acclimated quickly in group rounds, they can make a deep run on a road for redemption after last season’s final.

    3. Washington Spirit: Look for the Spirit to make a run with a young core, including two 2019 Rookie of the Year nominees in Sam Staab and Jordan DiBiasi. The prospect of having both Rose Lavelle and Andi Sullivan finally on the pitch at the same time should insure a deep tournament run.

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    4. Portland Thorns FC: A recent knee injury to starting goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and a transitional offseason for the club has presented some obstacles heading into this tournament. The arrival of Becky Sauerbrunn and Costa Rican international Rocky Rodriguez are just some ways the Thorns will remain competitive.

    5. OL Reign: The team will be without winger Megan Rapinoe and with a new coach in Farid Benstiti as a good portion of the 2019 returns. Look for new arrivals Sofia Huerta and Alana Cook to have an impact when the season starts in Utah.

    6 Utah Royals FC: The Royals will play host to this tournament, and under different circumstances, could start off a power ranking higher. New head coach Craig Harrington will have the opportunity to have his young players get time on the pitch, while veteran forward and former U.S. women’s national team striker Amy Rodriguez hunts for goals.

    7. Houston Dash: H-Town made some moves in the offseason for more experienced players for its back line in Megan Oyster and Katie Naughton. The Dash’s top line are all back from season-ending injuries last season, and will have to start clicking quickly to chase the rest of the pack above.

    8. Sky Blue FC: Consider them the true underdog of the tournament. No Lloyd. No Pugh. No Dydasco. The team can use this tournament to build and establish themselves, or completely shock the league if they come in organized and fit amid the injuries. 

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