D.C.: Hot n cold
⚾️Nationals: The Nats haven’t won a game since Opening Day, having just been swept by reigning champion LA Dodgers this weekend. Nats’ pitcher Max Scherzer had a yesterday, but the lack of offense is what’s really hurting the Nats, who haven’t scored a run in three of their last four games. Yikes.
- Although have returned from the COVID-19 injured list, newcomers Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell remain on it. Their debuts — and — can’t arrive soon enough.
🏒Capitals: The Caps started off hot and didn’t look back, downing the Boston Bruins 8–1 (!!!) yesterday. Even better than defeating defenseman Zdeno Chára’s old squad? The Caps recapturing the East Division lead all for themselves. Muahaha.
- And while goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s heart condition to play for the Caps this season, keep your eyes peeled if the team acquires any other new players before today’s NHL trade deadline.
⚽️Spirit: The Spirit struck first with forward Kumi Yokoyama’s in the fifth minute, but fell 3–2 to the tournament favorite North Carolina Courage on Saturday. But with Trinity Rodman’s debut, and several players yet to return from national team duties, the Spirit should still be dangerous this tourney.
🏊♀️Swimming: The DMV’s own Katie Ledecky is before her third Olympics. In this weekend’s Pro Swim Series in California, Ledecky won three of her four events, setting season bests and 2021 world-leading times in each victory. Watch out, world.
Chicago: All shook up
⚽️NWSL: Besides the aforementioned disappointing off-field events, on the pitch the Red Stars had a tight opening game of the Challenge Cup, in the scoreless effort. Chicago’s next match against the Portland Thorns on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT will be another tough one, but you know we love a Challenge.
⚾️MLB: The 4-5 Cubs won against the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend, and the 4-5 White Sox split their two games with the Kansas City Royals. The North Siders suffered pitching woes and an uninspired offense, while the South Siders’ , allowing a Royals home run in the ninth inning yesterday to lose the game. Sigh.
🏒NHL: The Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, marking only the second win in their last five games. It was an important win for Chicago’s playoff chances though, as they teeter on the edge of making the .
- While we’re expecting the Hawks to be relatively quiet ahead of this afternoon’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline (especially after a big with the Florida Panthers last week), at least the team gave us of players and their pets to keep us entertained. S’cute.
🏀NBA: The Bulls lost 121–117 to the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. It was a disappointing performance from Chicago, especially since we thought rookie Patrick Williams being left off ESPN’s ranking would fire up the squad. A missed opportunity.
Seattle: Let the good times roll
⚾️Mariners: The Mariners won two of three games against the Minnesota Twins, including yesterday’s 8–6 thriller. The M’s fell behind 6–0, but veteran third baseman Kyle Seager helped the team come roaring back with two , driving in four runs total. We definitely don’t think he’s .
- The 5-4 M’s will look to keep the good times rolling against the Baltimore Orioles today at 7:05 p.m. ET/4:05 p.m. PT.
⚽️OL Reign: The aforementioned Megan Rapinoe for the USWNT, and several other Reign players shone in national team action. Quinn kicked things off on Friday with a in Canada’s 3–0 victory over Jess Fishlock’s Welsh side.
Yuka Nicole Momiki celebrated her in style, in each of Japan’s wins over Paraguay and Panama. Gosh, we can’t wait ’til they’re all back in Cheney Stadium — probably not for the first Challenge Cup match on Friday, but soon.
⚽NWSL Challenge Cup Preview
QUOTE OF THE DAY
We were walking out to the pitch before the game and obviously you could see a celebratory locker room…and it was full of Budweiser. You're looking and thinking ‘well we want to win to do that and not see pictures of other people doing it.’
— Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly, on her team’s extra motivation heading into last year’s 2020 Challenge Cup Final. Not only did the Dash win the title, Daly was named the 2020 Challenge Cup MVP, winner of the tournament’s Golden Boot (awarded to the highest scorer) and she graced us with this epic celebration. Cheers to that.
⚽️ How it started
Following the COVID-19 sports pause, the NWSL was the first professional North American team sports league to return to action in 2020. After the season was postponed in March, the inaugural Challenge Cup kicked off in June with record-setting viewership numbers. Music to our ears.
- And although the Orlando Pride withdrew from the tourney before play began, there were no positive COVID-19 tests throughout the tournament. The league’s successful month-long bubble tourney paved the way for other sports leagues to return to action.
- Behind stellar play from the aforementioned MVP Daly, the Houston Dash hoisted the Challenge Cup trophy after defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2–0 in the final.
🚨 This year’s format
While the 2020 Challenge Cup was played in a bubble in Salt Lake City, Utah, this year’s tourney will be held in home markets. The NWSL’s 10 teams (expansion team Racing Louisville FC joins the fray this year) are divided into two divisions — East and West — with each team playing four matches, one against each team in their division.
- From there, the top team in each division advances to the championship game scheduled for Saturday, May 8th, airing on CBS in the U.S. and on Twitch in Canada. HYFR.
- And while the Challenge Cup doesn’t have an impact on regular season standings, it does offer teams a chance to sort things out and gain momentum ahead of the May 15th regular season start. Give us all of the soccer, please.
Another major factor in this year’s Challenge Cup is the scheduling. With an international break overlapping with the start of the tournament, NWSL teams will be without some of their top talent for at least the first two games. Teams with deeper rosters will be eager to capitalize and grab points in those early matches. Keep an eye out.
💪 The teams
Top contenders: As the regular season champions and NWSL Championship winners for both 2018 and 2019, North Carolina Courage had an unexpected early exit from the 2020 Challenge Cup, but we feel they’re destined to return to their winning ways in the East Division thanks to their deep roster.
- The West Division — led by Portland Thorns FC and the Chicago Red Stars — is seriously stacked. With all-time leading international goal scorer and Canadian Christine Sinclair as their captain, the Thorns should have no trouble finding the back of the net.
- As for the Red Stars, they’ll be entering the tourney with a new ownership group and be playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to avenge last year’s loss in the final. Watch out, world.
Middle of the pack: In the East, the Washington Spirit and (newly rebranded!) NJ/NY Gotham FC will contend to overtake the favored Courage. The Spirit are stacked on defense with USWNT members Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett. As for Gotham, it’s all about the offense, with USWNT strikers Carli Lloyd and Midge Purce leading the way.
- The Houston Dash and OL Reign have the odds stacked against them in the West Division. Even though the defending champion Dash have most of their core players returning, they’ll likely struggle at the start with players out for international friendlies.
- The Reign might benefit from their later start, as they open their season against the Dash on April 16th. With offensive stars Megan Rapinoe (pronounced Ra-PEE-noe), Quinn and Tziarra King, the Reign could defy expectations this go round.
Just happy to be here: Rounding out the East are the Orlando Pride and new kids on the block Racing Louisville FC. The Pride will be competing in their first-ever Challenge Cup, after having to withdraw last year due to COVID-19, while new Louisville fans will just be happy to see their team take the field.
- The final team in the West is Kansas City (KC) NWSL (formerly the Utah Royals). While KC probably won’t hoist the trophy, we’re still celebrating their new ownership group, which includes former college soccer player Brittany Matthews, Patrick Mahomes’ fiancée.
💃 The offense
Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit, Forward: As the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NWSL draft, Rodman will make her highly anticipated debut against the stacked Courage tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET. With key pieces of the Spirit offense playing internationally, Dennis Rodman’s daughter she will have a chance to make an immediate impact.
Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign, Forward: Wherever Rapinoe goes, we follow. After opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, Rapinoe is excited to return to the NWSL. After the USWNT’s April friendlies, Rapinoe will likely be back in time for the Reign’s tilt with the stacked Portland Thorns on April 21st. Mark your calendar.
Shea Groom, Houston Dash, Midfielder: Groom’s breakout three-goal performance in the Dash’s 2020 Challenge Cup run earned her a new three-year contract ahead of last year’s Fall Series. And Groom brought the heat again, scoring three goals and adding two assists. Houston, other teams might have a problem.
Desiree Scott, KC NWSL, Midfielder: This year will be somewhat of a homecoming for the CanWNT vet, as she first played for FC Kansas City during the NWSL’s inaugural 2013 season. She’ll bring a wealth of experience to this fresh-start club after returning from playing in Canada’s international friendlies.
🏆 Defense wins championships
Casey Krueger (née Short), Chicago Red Stars, Defender: With USWNT defenders Julie Ertz and Tierna Davidson away at friendlies, the Red Stars will rely heavily on Krueger, who started every game for Chicago during last year’s Challenge Cup run.
Abby Erceg, North Carolina Courage, Defender: This lockdown defender was named to the 2020 Challenge Cup Best XI and, heads up, she can get it done on offense too. Get you a girl who can do both.
Bella Bixby, Portland Thorns FC, Goalkeeper: Bixby’s breakout performance during the first few games of last year’s Challenge Cup was sadly cut short due to an ACL tear. We can’t wait to watch the Oregon-native run it back in her home market this year.
Ashlyn Harris, Orlando Pride, Goalkeeper: After being left off the USWNT roster for upcoming friendlies and the Pride missing out on the 2020 tournament, we’re expecting big things from Harris in her Challenge Cup debut. Talk about mom goals.
New York: Never a dull moment
⚾️Mets: After splitting the first two games with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets melted down in the final game of their opening series yesterday, losing after the Phillies’ four-run first inning established a lead the Mets couldn’t overcome. Sigh.
🏀NBA: The Knicks and Boston Celtics were neck-and-neck for most of their fun, fast-paced game last night, but the Celtics scraped by with the 101–99 win in the end. Knicks guard RJ Barrett continued his hot streak, shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from behind the arc and leading the team with 29 points. Love to see it.
- Over in Brooklyn, the Nets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 139–111 last night on the first of at least 10 days without James Harden, who will be due to a hamstring injury.
- To pile it on, Kevin Durant was after nasty between him and actor Michael Rapaport were made public on Twitter. Even though KD “” for the backlash, his comments left us disappointed in the star.
⚽️NWSL: New York and New Jersey’s NWSL team, formerly known as Sky Blue FC, announced a earlier this week. The team will now be known as Gotham FC and will rock a Batman-esque color scheme. After watching their new , we’re already counting down the days until the bat signal shines over the pitch.