With eight of the nine NWSL teams now in Utah, ready for the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup to kick off tomorrow, it’s starting to settle in that soccer in the States is about to return, starting with Saturday, June 27’s 12:30 PM ET match of the Portland Thorns versus the North Carolina Courage.
A trio of Courage players talked with Courage Country about the team’s approach to the 23-game tournament. Ally Watt, McKenzie Meehan, Sinclaire Miramontez discuss their preparation, anticipation, and approach to returning to the competitive pitch.
One Game at a Time
No one familiar with head coach, Paul Riley will be surprised to hear that the NC Courage are entering the tournament focusing only on the next game — one game at a time.
“We’ll have the time to rest and prepare for the next game after that, so just one game at a time,” 2020 first-round draft pick Ally Watt said.
Entire Team Effort
A regular season has teams playing one to two matches max during a given week. The Challenge Cup will accelerate that cadence a bit, and make the entire roster and its depth important.
“Everyone’s emphasized that we’re going to need the whole team because you never know what’s going to happen once you’re there,” midfielder McKenzie Meehan said.
“People could get injured, sick, or we just need a different look. The whole team is really engaged.”
Meehan said the fitness is different than regular season fitness.
“It’s fit different than just playing one game a week like we normally do in the regular season,” Meehan said.
“In terms of our preparation on the field, we’ve definitely been training hard and trying to get everybody game fit so that we are ready to go and we’re not prone to injury because we’re not prepared.”
Out of Normal Routine Advantages
Rookie Sinclaire Miramontez said there are some major advantages and pro’s jumping into the league match play via the Challenge Cup.
“There’s more opportunity for people to go to Utah this year with the expanded roster sizes,” Miramontez said.
“This league is so competitive and so a pro is even coming in and getting to train with them, and getting to learn from some of the best people in the world. It does wonders for a person’s development.”
Miramontez added there are other benefits for her and her teammates’ development.
“It also makes you learn quicker, adjust quicker, and just be willing to focus in more,” Miramontez said.
“That just helps you in the long run with the mental side of the game, being able to pick up on things quicker. You can adjust on the fly and get ready to go.”
It’s obviously not just the teams that are having to prepare and prepare differently. With COVID-19 concerns and precaution, the entire league has both prepared and informed the eight NWSL squads participating in the June/July 2020 tournament.
“They’re being very serious and what protocols they are using to make sure that we’re staying safe in our little bubble in Utah,” Watt said.
“We’re going to be safe. We’re going to get this tournament done.”
Watt said the COVID-19 has added an obvious extra layer to everything from travel, to their day-to-day movement.
“It’s a lot of information that we’ll probably have to review and be told again and again,” Watt said.
“I’m totally happy that it’s going to happen so that we all make sure that we’re going to do our part to make sure that this tournament goes off successfully,” she said.
All eight teams will play four games each in the group stage. After Orlando dropped out of the tournament, the second through fourth games got switched up. After facing Portland tomorrow, the Courage play the Washington Spirit July 1, the Chicago Red Stars July 5, and Sky Blue FC July 13. The match tomorrow against Portland will be broadcast on CBS, with subsequent matches being broadcast on CBS All Access.
The entire 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup can be viewed on NWSL’s website.