When COVID-19 upended the 2020 NWSL season before it even began, the Houston Dash were little more than a blip on everyone’s radar. They had finished the season prior with a 7-5-12 record and in seventh place in the table with only 26 points. 

Subsequently, when the first-ever Challenge Cup was announced in June, the Dash were given +1,000 odds to win the tournament (meaning you’d win $1,000 for every $100 bet). Only Sky Blue and Orlando had worse odds, and the Pride were DQ’d before the tournament began due to an outbreak of COVID on the team. 

The Dash had essentially been counted out before they ever even took the pitch. They proceeded to then stun the world by winning their first NWSL hardware, cruising through the preliminary round and knockout tournament before defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in the final.

“Even making it to the finals and rewriting a lot of the stigma that’s around the Dash, we still feel like there’s so much to do and that there’s always going to be people that think we just got here by happenstance,” Shea Groom told JWS ahead of the title game.

Standout Challenge Cup performances from players like Groom, Kristie Mewis, and Rachel Daly put the league on notice, but the Dash weren’t done just yet. 

First, they re-signed Mewis, Daly, and Groom to three-year contract extensions, as well as goalkeeper Jane Campbell to a one-year contract extension, locking down their top talent for the foreseeable future. 

Then, Houston’s coronation as a top-of-the-table squad continued through the NWSL Fall Series, where the Dash defeated the North Carolina Courage once and the Orlando Pride twice to go 3-1 in the four-game stint and finish in second. Their only loss came at the hands of the Courage, who narrowly defeated Houston 4-3 in the first game of the series.

Ultimately, the Dash finished 2020 with a 7-3-1 record, a winning percentage (64%) that more than doubled their 2019 efforts (29%).

In the months following the Fall Series, Kristie Mewis, Sophie Schmidt, Nichelle Prince, Allysha Chapman, Rachel Daly, and Jane Campbell each received national team call-ups from their respective countries, representing the United States, England, and Canada. During this time, Sophie Schmidt also signed a contract extension, keeping her in Houston through 2023. 

Houston’s impressive showing in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series has left many wondering if the Dash are ready for their encore — one that begins with a defense of their Challenge Cup title this April.

The tournament kicks off with a nationally-televised rematch of last year’s final between the Red Stars and the Dash, on CBS Sports Network April 9th (8:30 p.m. EST).

Ahead of the 2021 NWSL season, several members of Houston’s roster have shone on the international stage. Kristie Mewis has scored three goals for the US in their last six matches. Jane Campbell has likewise recorded valuable minutes with the USWNT, earning the start in net for both a friendly and a SheBelieves Cup match and notching two clean sheets in the process.

Meanwhile, Dash captain Rachel Daly headed abroad to play for West Ham United of the FA Women’s Super League, where she recorded five goals in twelve matches played before leaving the club in December. 

With a locked-in, experienced core and a refreshed sense of confidence in hand, the Dash certainly seem prepared to defy the odds again in 2021. They enter the Challenge Cup as members of the Western group, joined by the Chicago Red Stars, the OL Reign, Kansas City NWSL, and the Portland Thorns. And they’ve already issued an on-brand message to their competition: “Come and Take It.” 

In an interview for The SLICE, a YouTube series released by the Dash during the offseason, several players shared their excitement for the upcoming season.

“Everybody kind of sees this year as another chance to prove ourselves,” said forward Veronica Latkso. 

“I think that we still have a chip on our shoulder, because a lot of people see our success last season and see it more as a fluke rather than a precedent for the Dash. I think it’s exciting to be able to be like ‘Hey, no, we’re ready to prove people wrong again and show that we’re not that same old Dash from years past, we’re the same old Dash from last year, and for years to come that’s what we’re going to be.’”

If what Latsko says is true, and “the same old Dash from last year” make a reappearance, well, there’s a good chance we’ll see some hardware making its way to Houston again in 2021. 

As the National Women’s Soccer League’s offseason draws to a close, we’re reflecting on the tremendous strides the league has made in the last few months — from blockbuster trades to an expansion draft, new celebrity investors, to a cross-Atlantic talent race with the FA Women’s Super League, the NWSL is breaking new ground for women’s soccer, and we’re here for all of it.

The 2021 season will kick off with a month-long Challenge Cup starting April 9th. But first, here are the five biggest headlines from a monumental offseason.

1) Angel City FC, North Carolina Courage, and Chicago Red Stars add celebrity investors

What do Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, Candace Parker, and David Dobrik all have in common?

Each of these A-listers has invested in Angel City FC, the NWSL’s newest addition based in Los Angeles, California. Still not impressed? What if we told you Billie Jean King, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, and Alexis Ohanian were all part of the team?

Angel City, who is set to take the pitch in 2022, has revolutionized investment in the women’s game as we know it.

Just a few months after Angel City stunned the world with the news of their investment group, the North Carolina Courage added a celebrity owner of their own in late January — professional tennis player and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who became the first outside investor in the North Carolina Courage since Steve Malik acquired the team in 2017.

Later, on March 1st, the Chicago Red Stars expanded their ownership group as well, announcing that former Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije, Olympic gold medalist ice hockey player Kendall Coyne Schofield, ESPN’s Sarah Spain, music executive Colleen Mares, NFL marketing leader Julie Haddon, and local entrepreneur Marie Tillman had elected to invest in the team.

Needless to say, celebrity investments are becoming a trend in the National Women’s Soccer League, and there’s a chance the group-ownership model could spread. We’re certainly not opposed to seeing more big names bet on the future of women’s sports.

2) US Women’s National Team takes over the FA Women’s Super League

Speaking of trends, several USWNT players headed abroad to pursue a playing career in the FA Women’s Super League this offseason, including defender Abby Dahlkemper, midfield staples Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle, and forwards Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Alex Morgan.

The flurry of signings led to an increased scrutiny of the NWSL regarding its ongoing talent leak, with fans beginning to worry that high-profile players were jumping ship not only for temporary Olympic prep but also for better compensation. Dahlkemper herself signed a 2.5 year deal, meaning she won’t be returning stateside anytime soon.

3) Crystal Dunn Heads to Portland

Also making moves during the offseason was USWNT star Crystal Dunn, the key piece in a blockbuster trade that involved the North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, and the Portland Thorns.

The trade began with OL Reign sending both allocation money and goalkeeper Casey Murphy to the North Carolina Courage in exchange for Dunn. In turn, the Reign dealt Dunn to the Thorns, receiving an international roster spot for the 2021 season, a 2022 first-round draft pick, and some allocation money in return.

To some, this deal came as inevitable given that Dunn’s husband, Pierre Soubrier, is the head athletic trainer for the Portland Thorns, and playing for the North Carolina Courage required Dunn to live across the country from him. Others, however, were shocked — the trade dealt quite a blow to the Courage, who won two NWSL championships and two NWSL Shields with Dunn playing an integral role.

As for the Thorns, the addition of Dunn to a roster that already included Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan now has the team entering the season as Championship favorites.

4) Racing Louisville FC enters the game

In November, Racing Louisville FC selected its roster during an expansion draft, picking up fourteen players:

  1. Addisyn Merrick (North Carolina Courage)

  2. Julia Ashley (OL Reign)

  3. Jennifer Cudjoe (Sky Blue FC)

  4. Cecelia Kizer (Houston Dash)

  5. Katie Lund (Washington Spirit)

  6. Alanna Kennedy (Orlando Pride)

  7. Lauren Milliet (North Carolina Courage)

  8. Kaleigh Riehl (Sky Blue FC)

  9. Caitlin Foord (Orlando Pride)

  10. Katie McClure (Washington Spirit)

  11. Erin Simon (Houston Dash)

  12. Michelle Betos (OL Reign)

  13. Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns)

  14. Christen Press (Utah Royals)

Prior to the draft, Louisville received forwards Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato from the Chicago Red Stars in exchange for full protection during the expansion draft. Louisville has since sent Jennifer Cudjoe back to Sky Blue FC in exchange for allocation money and the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NWSL draft, during which Louisville continued to add to their roster.

Most significantly, Louisville drafted UNC standout Emily Fox first overall. And while it’s still not clear how soon players like Heath, Press and Foord will report to Louisville, given that all three are currently playing in the FAWSL, having Fox as a franchise corner piece should give fans a reason to be optimistic.

5) Catarina Macario goes pro… then heads to Europe

Last but certainly not least, Stanford star Catarina Macario announced on January 8th that she would be forgoing her senior season with the Cardinal to start her professional career. Just four days later, on January 12th, it was announced that the two-time Hermann Trophy winner had inked a 2.5-year contract with Lyon, the seven-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winners.

Since signing with Lyon, Macario has also logged two caps for the USWNT, scoring a goal in her second appearance for the US to lift them to a 6-0 victory over Columbia.

Most NCAA basketball fans are already thinking ahead to the Final Four. Will Baylor repeat? Can Maryland score enough to knock off the No. 1 seeds? How good is this young UConn squad?

But that doesn’t mean you should skip the first round, especially this year. With interstate rivalries, high-scoring 15 seeds, and 42-point-dropping guards all descending upon Texas, there will be an excess of competitive games. And if there’s an upset, do you want to be the one to miss it? Probably not.

Here are four of our favorite opening round match-ups:

No. 12 Central Michigan vs. No. 5 Iowa

Sunday, 12:00pm ET on ESPN

One thing’s for certain — this game is guaranteed to be a shootout, with two of the best offenses in college basketball — and two of the worst defenses. 

That spells bad news for the Hawkeyes, who have shown a tendency to struggle when a team can score with them. Iowa has played three teams this season that rank in the top-20 of points per game Maryland (twice), Ohio State (twice), and Iowa State. They went 1-4 in those games, with their only win coming against Iowa State. And Central Michigan can definitely keep with them. They averaged 77.9 points per game on the year, 16th best in the country.

Central Michigan is an interesting case study because they don’t play particularly fast, ranking 137th in points per possession. They’re just efficient, finishing 54.6% of their two-pointers, sixth-best in the country. And while Iowa might have the country’s most dynamic player in Caitlin Clark, Central Michigan has its own pair of guards, Molly Davis and Micaela Kelly, who each averaged 20-plus points per game this year and could readily lead CMU to the upset.

No. 14 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 3 Tennessee

Sunday, 2:00pm ET on ABC 

Tune in for the simple reason of watching Anastasia Hayes. The Middle Tennessee guard is a walking bucket, having averaged 26.5 points per game this season, second-best in the nation. She even dropped 42 in a game. 

It will be interesting to see how Hayes handles Tennessee’s length, with 6-foot-2 guard Jordan Horston wreaking havoc on the perimeter and SEC All-Defensive forward Tamari Key clogging up the middle. Tennessee will need a team effort to stop Hayes, but luckily, they know her pretty well — Hayes spent her freshman season playing for the Lady Volunteers, where she won the 2018 SEC 6th Woman of the Year. No one else on Middle Tennessee shoots above 45% from the field, but if they can find a way to hit shots and open lanes for Hayes, the Blue Raiders could keep it close. And if this game comes down to the wire, Hayes could help send her in-state rival and former squad home.

No. 9 South Dakota State vs. No. 8 Syracuse

Sunday, 5:30pm ET on ESPN2

Most of the time, people hesitate to select a non-Power 5 team for a deep run because they haven’t played a tough enough schedule. Well, that isn’t the case with South Dakota State, which has played five games against teams ranked in the top 75 of simple RPI, including 5th seeded Gonzaga, 5th seeded Missouri State, and 7th seeded Iowa State. The 21-3 Jackrabbits won all of those games and they could certainly give Syracuse some trouble on Sunday. Their biggest problem is that they allow opponents to shoot 30% from beyond the arch. But Syracuse isn’t a great three-point shooting team, knocking down just 29.7% of their threes. 

‘Cuse won’t go down easy, though. They are a veteran squad led by redshirt senior Tiana Mangakahia, the NCAA leader in assists who returned to the court after sitting out last season due to breast cancer. Senior Kiara Lewis, however, will be the key player Sunday. In games that Lewis scores 15 or more points, the Orange are 7-2. If she can get hot, South Dakota State will have trouble catching up. If not, this game could come down to the final possession.

No. 15 Troy vs. No. 2 Texas A&M

Monday, 6:00pm ET on ESPN2

I know, I know. The chances of Troy knocking off Texas A&M are very, very slim. But hear me out — this could still be an entertaining game. Troy plays at the fastest pace in the entire NCAA, averaging 83.1 possessions per 40 minutes and 84.3 points per game. 

Could Troy catch Texas A&M lazy in the first half and keep the game close? Possibly. Troy forward Alexus Dye could always get hot like she did earlier in the season against Mississippi State, when she dropped 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Worst case scenario: Texas A&M puts up more than 100 points, and Troy gets pretty close itself.

This year’s NCAA tournament feels different, and it’s not just because it’s the first in a bubble. Rather, for the first time in a long time, it really feels like it’s anyone’s tournament to win.

The last time we watched March Madness in 2019, only No. 1 and No. 2 seeds made the Elite Eight. And in the last 20 years, there hasn’t been a single Final Four without at least two No. 1 seeds.

But this bracket is jam-packed with teams that could stay a few extra weekends, from one seeds (is it a hot take to pick NC State?) to three seeds (don’t forget about Tennessee’s victory over South Carolina) to five seeds (we see you Caitlin Clark and Iowa).

With games starting on Sunday, March 21, here are our first reactions to the 2021 NCAA tournament draw.

No. 1 seed with the toughest path

When it comes to tournament spoilers, Stanford has multiple of their side of the bracket. Second seeded Louisville might have the country’s best player in Dana Evans. Three seeded Georgia has a mean, physical, and experienced defense. Fourth seeded Arkansas has knocked off UConn and Baylor (more on this below). And Five seeded Missouri State came back from 16 to beat Maryland.

Stanford will have some tough games down the road — that is, if they can even make it out of the second round. The Cardinal will have to face off against either Oklahoma State and Natasha Mack, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, or Wake Forest and their four players averaging double-digit points.

There’s a reason Stanford was ranked as the number one overall seed, but don’t let the headlines deceive you. This will not be an easy journey back to the Final Four for the Cardinal.

The non-top two seed with the best chance to win it all

How about No. 4 Arkansas? The Razorbacks have wins over Baylor and UConn, and lost to Texas A&M twice by a total of three points. They can score in a hurry, averaging 83.1 points per game, fourth-best in the country, despite playing in the SEC. They also have a born scorer in Chelsea Dungee, who lives at the free-throw line and attacks the basket without any regard for the defenders in front of her. Dungee dropped 37 points on UConn, and she can do it again. Just ask Ole Miss, whom she torched for 38 points five games later.

The problems with Arkansas? They’re on the stacked side of the bracket, are 2-6 against top-25 teams, and, for as much as Arkansas can score, they allow opponents to score just as much. In an early-season match-up against Maryland, they gave up 115 points — the Terrapins’ highest-scoring outing of the year. But if this Arkansas team gets hot or Dungee fights her way to the free-throw line 17 times (as she did against Ole Miss), they can beat anyone in the bracket — as they’ve already shown.

Team with the most Cinderella potential

Who doesn’t like watching a team fly up and down the court chucking threes? That’s what you’ll get with Florida Gulf Coast University. Riding a 25-game win streak, the Eagles’ offense averages an NCAA-best 11.9 three-point field goals per game, while they limit opposing three-point shooters to 25.3% on the other end.

Their only two losses came early in the season against Missouri State and Arkansas, games they played without their leading scorer Kierstan Bell, an Ohio State transfer who averaged 24.3 points and 10.8 rebounds this year. When Bell finally did return, Florida Gulf Coast scored 70 points and beat a UCF squad that typically holds teams to 49.9 points per game — the best in the country. The 11th seeded Eagles are a tad undersized, without a true forward or anyone above 6-foot-1 on their roster, but, at full strength, no one in the country has beaten them.

Best conference champion to not make the tournament

That’s right. A team won their conference championship and won’t be making the trip to San Antonio. But it’s not because of COVID or NCAA violations. It’s because they’re still in the process of reclassifying to Division I.

We’re talking about Cal Baptist here, the only team in the country to have an undefeated record after they went 24-0 this season and swept the WAC. Previously a Division II team, Cal Baptist must wait a total of four years before hearing their name called on the Selection Show. In the meantime, they’ll have to settle for a WNIT bid. See you in 2023, Lancers fans.

For more FAWSL coverage, check out The Soccer Show, a first-of-its-kind, highlights-driven program brought to you by JWS and ATA Football. 

The final quarter of the FA Women’s Super League season is officially underway, and what was once a four-team title race now looks to be Chelsea’s to lose.

While the Blues are only two points ahead of second-place Manchester City, there’s only so many games left for any team to close the gap.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And with six gameweeks left, these are the three teams who have a shot to overtake Chelsea and become the FAWSL 2020/2021 Champions.


Manchester City are right on Chelsea’s heels with 39 points. City started off the season very poorly, dropping points in four of their first nine matches, as it seemed like Gareth Taylor was still learning how to manage his squad. City especially struggled defensively in the beginning, and they were unable to see out matches.

A resurgence during the holiday season saw them take advantage of their Manchester rivals’ poor form and leap ahead of them in the table, while the January signing of USWNT star Abby Dahlkemper helped strengthen their defensive fragilities.

They’ve now won nine league games in a row, dating back to December 6th, during which they’ve scored 33 goals and only conceded three.

While those early losses could come back to haunt them, if any team is catching Chelsea and beating them to the title, it’s Manchester City, especially given the form they’re in. The biggest game remaining on the FAWSL calendar is a clash between the two on April 25th at the Academy Stadium in Manchester. Those 90 minutes may very well decide this year’s race.


Manchester United are currently in third with 35 points. The team was not expected to compete for the title this year, having only been promoted from the Championship following the 2018/2019 season. And yet, their current standing may ring as a disappointment to the United faithful, given that they were top of the league only a few short months ago.

The importance of Christen Press and Tobin Heath signings cannot be overstated. The two USWNT stars came with a wealth of experience, but also the pressure to deliver for United.

And until the New Year, they did just that. Going into their match against Chelsea on January 17th, United were unbeaten in the league, with eight wins and two draws. Their loss to Chelsea that day started a spiral that saw them slip first from the top and then into third.

Heath’s injury alone was enough to derail the club. When you add in injuries to key players like Leah Galton, Alessia Russo, and Lauren James, it’s hard to fault United for faltering as they have.

Casey Stoney has maintained that because United is such a new team, her goal for the season isn’t to win the title but to qualify for the Champions League. That being said, the team will likely still feel disappointed that they let a real shot at the title slip away.


Arsenal are in fourth with 29 points, and even though they have played one less match than the other three teams, it’s unlikely that they’ll be crowned champions this season.

Crazier things have happened, of course, and anything may seem possible for such a star-studded squad, which counts Vivianne Miedema, Caitlin Foord, and Daniëlle van de Donk among their starting XI.

Arsenal have had one major problem this season, and it’s that they have not played well against their major competition at the top of the table. So far, Arsenal have played five matches against the three teams they are competing against for the title—Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City. They’ve dropped points in all five matches.

In these matches, Arsenal have struggled to match their opponents’ intensity, a reversal of fate for a team who, under Joe Montemurro, have usually been the side pressing their opponents high up the pitch. This season, they’ve struggled to keep up the energy in the second half, allowing teams to pin them back, which has created more opportunities for them to concede and fewer for them to get the ball forward.

It’s been a problem since the beginning of the season, and yet Montemurro has been unable to find a solution.

Arsenal’s next match is against Manchester United. And while their form has picked up as of late (culminating in a 4-0 win over Birmingham City last weekend), even if they win, they’ll still be behind United in fourth.

At this point, Arsenal have a very little chance of winning the title. For them, the bigger goal has to be finishing in the top three and qualifying for the Champions League. Chelsea’s London rivals may not be a real cause for concern, but Arsenal still has every reason to try and salvage what has been a somewhat disappointing year.