The 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off for OL Reign on Wednesday evening, as the club heads to BMO Stadium in Los Angeles to take on Angel City FC. The match kicks off on April 19 at 7 PM PT and will air for American viewers on CBS Sports Network. International fans can watch at NWSLSoccer.com.
Unlike the prior two years, which featured preseason Challenge Cup tournaments, the 2023 Challenge Cup will be played throughout the middle of the regular season. The tournament is split into three groups of four teams, with each team playing home and away against the other teams in their group. The top team of each group, plus the highest-placing runner-up, advance to the semifinals on September 6, with the final scheduled for September 9.
Like last year, OL Reign’s group features Angel City FC, San Diego Wave, and the Portland Thorns. Here are five things to know about the Reign’s opening match of the tournament.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
After a tough match last weekend against San Diego, and another regular-season battle this Saturday against Chicago, head coach Laura Harvey is going to use this Challenge Cup game to give her depth players a chance to earn minutes and build into the NWSL season. This is a great chance to see how deep OL Reign is.
“Coming off the back of an international break as well, I think it’s an opportunity for us to utilize our roster. It’s similar to how we used the Challenge Cup last year, where we used our roster more than we did in season,” Harvey said in a pre-match press conference. “I think it’s just a really good chance for the players that haven’t played as many minutes to get a chance to play, us to push (forward Megan Rapinoe) Pinoe on a little bit more, give people rest that need it.”
It won’t just be OL Reign that is rotating. Angel City is expected to do the same. While Angel City added Julie Ertz to their roster this week, it’s unclear if she’ll be available for Wednesday’s match.
#ACFC signs US Women’s National Team star midfielder @julieertz to the club’s roster!— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) April 17, 2023
Read about the roster update here: https://t.co/fncDUuLZRZ pic.twitter.com/pIyRZPZ3og
Prize money on the line
Thanks to the tournament sponsor UKG, a $1 million prize pool will be split between the four semifinal teams. The exact breakdown of prize money for the winners versus the other teams is still being finalized, but the goal is to bring the women’s prize compensation in line with what men typically expect to get.
“I think, first and foremost, we’re on the pitch to win — and those incentives are obviously secondary to us winning those games,” midfielder Quinn said in a pre-match press conference. “But I think it is really exciting, especially looking at women’s soccer as a whole, to see these prize incentives increasing.”
While this is a welcome investment, several NWSL players and coaches have called on the league to also increase prize money for the Shield and NWSL championship.
It cannot be.— Jessica Fishlock MBE (@JessFishlock) April 19, 2023
We upping the CC .. great, thanks. Appreciate it.
It cannot be more than Shield / Championship.
Those things are ELITE and the shield is literally the toughest thing to do. https://t.co/n4E5WqZ7w7
How Angel City started
Angel City started the 2023 regular season with a 1-1-1 record. The team has scored five goals while conceding five. In front of an average of 20,000 fans at BMO Stadium, Angel City has lost and drawn so far at home. That includes a comeback draw last weekend against Racing Louisville after going down two goals in the first half.
The first pick in this year’s NWSL draft, Alyssa Thompson, looks like the real deal and has been a threat for Angel City so far this season — scoring one goal. The 18-year-old is pushing for a spot on the U.S. women’s national team for the World Cup. Savannah McCaskill and Claire Emslie both have a goal and an assist, and former Reign player Katie Johnson has two goals.
Angel City’s press
While the team sat back and absorbed pressure a lot last year, Angel City is a team that likes to press higher in 2023. After three games, they are third in the league in high turnovers and lead the league with the lowest PPDA — passes per defensive action, which is calculated by the number of passes made by the opposition divided by the number of defensive actions made by the out-of-possession team. Angel City’s PPDA is 8.5, compared to 9.8 for OL Reign.
While the home team will also be rotating as much as OL Reign, Harvey expects this same kind of pressure on Wednesday.
“I think Angel City is a team that likes to play. They’ve pressed higher this year, made that difficult. So yeah, I think it will be a good game. I think both teams like to play football, so that’s always enjoyable.”
Several Reign connections
Angel City has seven former Reign players, including Madison Hammond, who after starting on the defensive line has featured in the midfield for the LA club this year. After getting selected first in Angel City’s expansion draft, Dani Weatherholt has been a staple in the midfield. Katie Johnson has already scored twice for the club, Jasmyne Spencer was converted to right back at Angel City last season, Paige Nielsen has earned three starts already, and Sydney Leroux and Merritt Mathias are still recovering from injuries.
Injury / Availability Report
OUT: Angelina (SEI - knee), Rose Lavelle (leg), Phoebe McClernon (back)
QUESTIONABLE: Bethany Balcer (hamstring), Sam Hiatt (leg), Olivia Van der Jagt (hip)
OUT: Angela Anderson (excused absence), Simone Charley (SEI - achilles), Sydney Leroux (ankle), Merritt Mathias (knee), Christen Press (SEI - knee)
How to Watch
OL Reign kicks off the 2023 Challenge Cup Wednesday, April 19, at 7 PM PT. The game will air on CBS Sports Network, which means it won’t be available to stream live on Paramount+. International viewers can still watch the match for free on NWSLSoccer.com.