BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS

The NWSL Challenge Cup is officially heading to the knockout stage. Before the quarterfinals begin this Friday, take a look at the Top 10 plays of the opening round.

 

10. WE WANT WHATEVER LYNN WILLIAMS IS EATING

We’re not sure if the defenders were standing still or if Williams is just that fast. Even after getting tripped up on the right flank at half field, Williams relentlessly pushes onto goal, cutting across her defender and finishing the ball front post with spectacular poise and composure. Coach Andonovski, are you taking notes?

 

9. CASEY SHORT HITS THE BUZZER BEATER

Short may be a defender, but she knows how to get forward and find the back of the net. McCaskill drops a bomb into the box and Short does the rest, heading it home to give Chicago a 1-0 lead in the 85th minute. The Red Stars would hold on to win their first game of the tournament against Utah.

 

8. SHERIDAN ONLY HAS ONE MODE: BEAST MODE

Kailen Sheridan is an absolute animal. Here, the Sky Blue goalkeeper blocks a rip from point-blank range on a breakaway in order to preserve a shutout against OL Reign. If Sheridan was our keeper, we might get a little too comfortable having her back there.

 

7. WARNING: HIGH VOLUME OF TIKI-TAKA INBOUND

Plays like these remind us why it’s called the beautiful game. A quick slip ball in from the flank and an outside of the foot flick by Groom sets Kristie Mewis up to perfectly knock the ball home. We could watch this play on repeat. Forever.

 

6. DUNN GETS IT DONE

Crystal Dunn is known as one of the most versatile players in all of soccer. Typically positioned as a left-back, Dunn has recently stepped into a new role as an attacking central midfielder, earning her first goal of the tournament off a diagonal ball from Williams. We’re secretly convinced Dunn could step in goal and still be a star.

5. MEET OUR NEW SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, AUBREY BLEDSOE

You can get as close as you want to the goal before you shoot, but frankly, it doesn’t matter, because the Washington Spirits’ goalkeeper is an absolute brick wall. Bledsoe makes an incredible reactionary save against the Chicago Red Stars here, blocking the shot with just her left fist. Bledsoe’s heroics helped her team pick up up their first win of the tournament.

 

4. THREE WORDS: THE. GREAT. HORAN.

Coach Andonovskis’ notes: ‘Horan is a total stud.’ The Portland Thorns’ Meghan Klingenberg chips a dinker into the box, setting up Horan, who scores a powerful diving header. Her extra effort gave Portland an advantage over Washington Spirit that resulted in a 1:1 tie for the clubs. For Horan, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ #facts

 

3. KAWASUMI’S HAIL MARY

Remember that epic goal Carli Lloyd hit in the Women’s World Cup final game in 2015, catching the Japanese goalkeeper off her line? Well, Nahomi Kawasumi, a Sky Blue FC forward and member of Japan’s national team, said ‘watch this’ against the Houston Dash. Kawasumi picks her head up, sees Jane Campbell far out of her goal, and cleverly chips the ball into the back of the net, helping her team to a 2-0 win.

 

2. NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES. SOME WEAR LAUREN BARNES’ JERSEY

Defenders don’t always get enough credit, but when they do, they certainly deserve it. Barnes does a full 180 here, shifting from her mark to pick up an open opposing forward in the box. Her perfectly timed slide tackle blocks Kawasumi’s rocket shot, preserving OL Reign’s 0-0 draw with Sky Blue FC.

 

1. IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SHEA GROOM

Groom took flight on this play, heading the ball back post off a brilliant cross delivered from teammate Rachel Daly. Groom’s goal doubled Houston’s lead en route to a 2-0 win against OL Reign. Meanwhile, we’re still crunching the numbers in trying to calculate just how Groom was able to stay up for so long.