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NWSL Challenge Cup To Feature 11 Penn Staters

While many Penn Staters wait for the return of the NBA, MLB, and NFL, they’ll get the chance to women’s soccer stars return to action this week.

On Saturday, June 27, all eyes will be fixated on women’s soccer as the month-long National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup kicks off and features 11 former Penn State stars.

The tournament will involve eight of the nine NWSL clubs after the Orlando Pride announced it will not participate due to 10 positive coronavirus cases within the team. It’ll be hosted at two venues near Salt Lake City.

Six of the eight clubs will have at least one Penn Stater traveling to Utah. With 11 players suiting up, Penn State is tied with Stanford as the third-most represented university.

Orlando’s decision to skip the competition will rule out two-time World Cup champion Ali Krieger as well as Erin McLeod, both of whom played for the Nittany Lions in the early 2000s.

Utah Royals FC

After recently acquiring Marissa Sheva from Spain, Utah will feature four Nittany Lions on its roster, the most of any team. Elizabeth Ball, who played for Penn State from 2014 to 2017, will suit up for the Royals for the first time after transferring from the Portland Thorns.

Defenders Mallory Weber and Madeline Nolf will enter their second season with the club, which finished sixth overall in 2019. Weber played in 19 matches in her first season with the club and will get the chance to make the left-back spot her own. Nolf, meanwhile, made one brief cameo last year.

Portland Thorns FC

Three Penn Staters will line up for title-contending Portland Thorns FC, led by Raquel Rodriguez. She’ll aim to star on the front line for the Thorns. Rodriguez won the MAC Hermann Trophy with Penn State during the Nittany Lions’ national championship year in 2015 and scored the first-ever goal for Costa Rica in a Women’s World Cup.

Goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom will most likely play backup for Adrianna Franch, while Emily Ogle will try to break into the midfield rotation for the Thorns.

Elsewhere In The League

Three additional Penn Staters with United States national team experience will feature for their respective teams in Utah, along with one who’s trying to make a professional debut.

Alyssa Naeher will enter her fifth year with the Chicago Red Stars. Naeher is best known for replacing Hope Solo as the United States’ starting goalkeeper and helped lead the team to a victory at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Naeher will be the starter for Chicago and try to build on a successful 2019 season that ended in a defeat to the NC Courage in the finals.

Despite Megan Rapinoe deciding to not play in the Challenge Cup, the OL Reign’s midfield will feature international leadership in the form of Allie Long. Long, who played with Penn State from 2005-2006 before transferring to UNC, will be a leader in the center of the pack for her Seattle-based club.

Down in Texas, the Houston Dash will return a strong central midfield partnership with Kristie Mewis and Penn Stater Christine Nairn.

Sky Blue FC’s Kaleigh Riehl rounds out the list of Penn Staters traveling to Utah. Riehl was picked No. 11 overall in this season’s college draft and is the only member of the 2019 Penn State team to be named to a Challenge Cup roster.

How Can I Watch?

The eight participating clubs will play four games in a preliminary round. Each club will enter the quarterfinals where a single-elimination style tournament will decide the champion.

The opening match will be between the NC Courage and Eckerstrom, Rodriguez, and Ogle’s Portland Thorns. The fixture will kick-off at 12:30 p.m. on June 27 and be broadcasted on CBS. The rest of the group stage, as well as the quarterfinals and semifinals, will be streamed on CBS All Access, CBS’s paid subscription service.

The final match, scheduled for July 26, will be televised on CBS. For more information on the tournament, visit the NWSL’s website.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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