HERRIMAN, UT - JULY 17: Britt Eckerstrom #33 of Portland Thorns FC deflects a shot on goal during a game between Portland Thorns FC and North Carolina Courage at Zions Bank Stadium on July 17, 2020 in Herriman, Utah.

The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup may have produced it’s fair share of goals, but for many, it was the outstanding play of the league’s coalition of goalkeepers that defined the bubble tournament. From national team regulars to third-string superstars, the keepers of the Cup made goals an absolute premium, so much so that the quarterfinals alone witnessed not one but three clean sheets.

Below, we celebrate the top 10 saves of the Cup.

 

10. SHERIDAN IS A WALL OF STEEL

OL Reign’s Jasmyne Spencer chases down her teammate’s flick and carries the ball straight to goal, drilling the ball from point-blank range. But the Canadian Kailen Sheridan makes an effortless save, pushing the ball to the side and preserving Sky Blue’s scoreless draw with OL Reign.

 

9. BARNES FLEXES HER FLAWLESS TIMING

It doesn’t matter how much time is remaining, you know Lauren Barnes will be putting in work. Late in the first half, Kawasumi of Sky Blue receives a cross inside the box and takes a touch, knocking the ball down. She blasts a line-drive shot from just a few yards out, but OL’s Barnes slides just in time to block the attempt. Barnes’ late tackle assisted OL Reign in maintaining a clean slate in a scoreless draw against Sky Blue. We’d say that shot probably bruised Barnes’ leg, but in reality it probably only bruised Sky Blue’s ego.

 

8. ROWLAND PUTS THE STOP SIGN OUT

The Chicago Red Stars’ Kealia Watt steals the ball from North Carolina’s center back and drives to goal on a counter-attack. Katelyn Rowland of North Carolina makes herself big, standing strong at the six-yard box to block Watt’s shot with just one hand. Rowland’s mind-boggling save assisted in North Carolina’s 1-0 victory over Chicago in the first round of the tournament.

 

7. BLEDSOE PUTS IN THE FULL 90

Late in the game, Lindsey Horan of the Portland Thorns collects a floated ball from out of the air, placing it on the ground before crushing it from just outside the 18. But Washington Spirit’s goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe denies Horan’s could-have-been goal, making a diving save to push the ball out of danger. Bledsoe then casually hops up, as if to say, just another day at the office.

 

6. ECKERSTROM COMES OUT FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS

North Carolina’s Williams slips Deinha a pass at the top of the box. Debinha twirls to face the goal and cracks a shot with wicked spin. Britt Eckerstrom remarkably reads Debinha’s shot and sends the ball out of play. Eckerstrom’s impeccable performance against Carolina in the quarterfinals allowed Portland to upset the reigning league champs, and rightfully solidified her spot on the Challenge Cup’s Best XI.

 

5. SHERIDAN OUT HERE BREAKING FORWARDS’ HEARTS

Golden glove winner Kailen Sheridan just would not let anything into her net. Washington’s Tori Huster hits a dangerous ball into the box from the right flank, finding her teammate Ashley Sanchez back post. Sanchez heads the ball into the corner, but Sky Blue’s keeper Sheridan is there to deflect the ball out to a defender in the area. Sheridan’s phenomenal save helped her team push past Washington Spirit in the quarterfinals in a 0-0 tie that eventually led to penalties.

 

4. CAMPBELL THRIVES UNDER PRESSURE

Campbell blocked 3 out of 5 penalties in the quarterfinals… that’s just unheard of. Here, Campbell read Vero Boquete like a book, diving to deflect the penalty off of her gloves. Her save secured Houston a slot into the semifinals after a scoreless tie in regulation. Can anyone say, national team call-up?

 

3. THAT’S NAEHER’S NET

Jess Fishlock maneuvers her way past Chicago’s defense and takes a low-driven shot back post. World Cup champ Alyssa Naeher denies Fishlock, pushing the ball wide from the frame to keep a scoreless draw in the quarterfinals clash. Naeher later played a key role in penalties, boosting Chicago to the semis. It’s almost like she’s used to playing on the big stage.

 

2. BIXBY SAYS, NAH, NOT TODAY

Ashley Sanchez of Washington Spirit plays an outside foot bender to teammate Ashley Hatch, who immediately takes a shot toward the upper V of the front post. But Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Bella Bixby makes a backward diving effort to tip the ball safely out of play, effortlessly protecting a 1-1 draw in Portland’s third game of the preliminary rounds.

 

1. ECKERSTROM SHINES IN HER UNEXPECTED SPOTLIGHT

Carolina’s Debinha rips a free-kick from just outside the box, causing Eckerstrom to reach full extension in order to punch the ball over the crossbar. Eckerstrom’s exceptional save and match performance lifted Portland to a 1-0 win over Carolina, giving the Thorns a slot in the semifinals of the tournament.

Eckerstrom played in a total of two full games, but made the NWSL tournament Best XI team thanks to this save of the tournament and many more like it. Two games turned out to be all she needed to leave her mark on the Cup.