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NWSL Challenge Cup: Predicting the 2023 knockout-round winners

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Savannah DeMelo is back from the World Cup and steering Racing Louisville into the Challenge Cup semifinals. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals are almost here, with four teams set to face off on Wednesday for a spot in Saturday’s championship game.

This will reportedly be the last iteration of the Challenge Cup, with the NWSL planning to abandon the tournament in 2024, according to The Equalizer. Thus, Kansas City, North Carolina, OL Reign and Racing Louisville are all looking to win what could be the final Challenge Cup in NWSL history.

Semifinal #1: Kansas City Current vs. North Carolina Courage

Wednesday @ 8 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

The Current and Courage are both going into their Challenge Cup semifinal matchup with some lumps. Kansas City is 1-1 in its last two games after a big 1-0 win over OL Reign on Aug. 18, while North Carolina has gone winless in its last four games. The Courage were on the verge of a win against Gotham FC on Saturday, before they squandered a two-goal lead late to draw 3-3.

In the Challenge Cup, North Carolina put on a clinic in back-to-back games in July — a 6-0 win over the Spirit and a 5-0 win over Orlando.

Still, recent history appears to favor Kansas City. The teams are tied 1-1 in their regular season series, with the Current taking the most recent game. Veteran forward Kristen Hamilton also came up big for the 2022 NWSL runners-up in their last Challenge Cup game, scoring a brace in a 3-0 win over Racing Louisville.

Prediction: Kansas City 2, North Carolina 1

Semifinal #2: OL Reign vs. Racing Louisville

Wednesday @ 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Racing Louisville is riding high heading into their semifinal match against OL Reign. They haven’t lost a game since a 3-0 Challenge Cup defeat to Kansas City on Aug. 5, and they haven’t lost an NWSL regular season game since June. On Saturday, they came from behind to defeat No. 2 Portland 2-1. With most of their players back from the World Cup, Racing Louisville could be a surprise contender in the Challenge Cup.

OL Reign, meanwhile, lost three in a row before beating the Orlando Pride on Saturday. After registering wins over San Diego and Portland in the Challenge Cup, they enter the knockout rounds as the No. 1 seed.

Each game between Louisville and OL Reign this season resulted in a 2-2 draw, so expect this to be an even matchup and a game that goes down to the wire.

Prediction: OL Reign 2, Racing Louisville 2 (LOU wins on penalties 4-3)

Championship: Racing Louisville vs. Kansas City

Saturday @ 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Kansas City has the knockout-round pedigree, but Racing Louisville has the momentum and could ride it all the way to the Challenge Cup trophy. Louisville will lean on the USWNT’s Savannah DeMelo and Jaelin Howell to set the tone in the midfield and spur the attack in a hard-fought game.

Prediction: Racing Louisville 1, Kansas City 0

MVP pick: Savannah DeMelo