In what was to become the first of three goalless quarter-final matches, Utah Royals took on Houston Dash in a bid to progress to the latter stages of the knockout rounds.
Taking ourselves back a few weeks, we were treated with the first meeting of these two sides. Their opening 3-3 draw undoubtedly showcased what both of these teams can do. But now seeded 4th and 5th with an almost identical preliminary record, much like their first match conveyed, there was little between them.
A physical game from the off, neither side were backwards in coming forwards with their challenges. Decisions made by the officials did little to settle tensions, and were somewhat questionable at times. Notably, a collision in the box between Houston’s Bri Visalli and Utah’s keeper Abby Smith, in which a penalty was not awarded.
Late in the game, Houston’s Rachel Daly was fouled by Rachel Corsie just outside of the area. Daly had picked up the ball and was sprinting toward the goal when Corsie pulled her down from behind, intentionally obstructing a goal scoring opportunity. Corsie received a yellow card for her offence. And she wasn’t the only one. Frustrations did not ease as the match progressed and the fixture ended with six players being shown a yellow.
Yet despite the ferocity displayed in the defensive play, there were chances for both sides. Vero Boquete was unlucky not to convert her free kick for the Royals early on. Nichelle Prince was denied by the woodwork with a strike for the Dash just before the half time whistle. Christine Nairn then sent her effort just wide from the free kick awarded from Corsie’s foul on Daly in the 82nd minute. But ultimately the teams remained even as the full ninety rolled round.
As per Challenge Cup rules, there was to be no stoppage time in the event of a tie. So began the second penalty shootout in NWSL history.
After Amy Rodriguez and Corsie both failed to hit the back of the net for Utah, it was Houston’s co-captain Jane Campbell who reigned women of the hour. Campbell’s solid shot stopping then denied a third penalty taken by Boquete, meaning the Dash stole the win with a 3-2 victory over the Royals.
Houston Dash will now face Portland Thorns for their semi-final showdown on Wednesday 22nd July.
By Charlotte Stacey
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos