BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS

As we head into the knockout stage of the NWSL Challenge Cup, here are 5 young players early in their careers who we’re excited to watch over the next round of games and beyond.

 

BELLA BIXBY, PORTLAND, GOALKEEPER 

With Adrianna Franch out of the tournament due to an injury, Britt Eckerstrom was expected to step in as the #1 goalkeeper for the Portland Thorns. However Marc Parsons and second year keeper Bella Bixby had other ideas. Getting the first 4 starts of her NWSL career, Bixby has more than impressed. With two clean sheets and a 78.6% success save rate matching USWNT team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Bixby is one to keep an eye on for league play and beyond.

 

ASHLEY SANCHEZ, WASHINGTON, FORWARD 

Expectations were high from day one for the fourth overall pick of the 2020 draft, and Sanchez has delivered. The rookie has played in every Challenge Cup game so far, starting three, and been a constant threat around the goal for her side. She’s looked more and more comfortable as the tournament has progressed, and to top it all off, she flicked in one of the craziest assists we’ve ever seen.

 

TZIARRA KING, UTAH, FORWARD 

Tziarra King started her NWSL career with a bang, coming in and scoring the game-tying goal in the waning minutes of the Royal’s opening match with Houston. King has appeared late in three of her side’s four group stage matches, and we expect her to continue to be a late-impact player as she grows in her role. Looking beyond the Cup, King will have the opportunity to learn from some of the best in Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the long run.

 

ADDISYN MERRICK, NORTH CAROLINA, DEFENDER

Merrick quietly slid into the right back role, starting and playing nearly every minute of three of the Courage’s four matches. The 28th pick of the 2020 draft hasn’t skipped a beat since stepping up for the champs and, on a team like North Carolina, has proven that even though she’s young, don’t expect her to be the weak link on a seemingly unbeatable side. Her pass completion rate is 73%, and we expect her to continue her steady play as the Courage look to defend their title.

 

BIANCA ST. GEORGES, CHICAGO, DEFENDER 

The 20th pick in the 2019 draft patiently waited 18 months to make her NWSL debut, but has since gone on to start in two of Chicago’s group stage matches. In those games, she’s done more than enough to justify getting further minutes in the knockout stage. St Georges has a 92% completion rate on passes in her own half and poses a threat downfield when she gets forward.

 

BONUS: JENNIFER CUDJOE, SKY BLUE FC, MIDFIELDER 

Cudjoe isn’t exactly young by NWSL standards, but she is one of our favorite stories and standout performers in the Challenge Cup. After spending three seasons in the WPSL, Cudjoe persevered and impressed the staff and players at the open tryout for Sky Blue. Against Houston, the 26-year-old from Ghana completed 85.6% of her passes and has since become a key player in Sky Blue’s midfield. If the team is going to make a run through the playoffs, they’ll need Cudjoe to continue beating expectations.