Alyssa Naeher, AP Photo

The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup is under way, with six games in Utah already completed.

The North Carolina Courage currently sit atop the table following a cup-opening 2-1 victory over the Portland Thorns FC and Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat of the Washington Spirit. 

Meanwhile, four teams have drawn in their first and only matches in the only professional soccer league to return to play in the United States thus far.

From a Penn State perspective, a number of alumni from the women’s soccer program have been key contributors in the early stages of the 23-game challenge.

With 11 players scattered across the cup’s eight teams, here’s a look at the varying performances of former Penn State players in the tournament’s early stages. 

Portland Thorns FC

With midfielders Emily Ogle and Raquel Rodriguez and goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom on roster, the Thorns FC have started both Ogle and Rodriguez once each in their pair of games.

Rodriguez, a star on the Nittany Lions’ championship-winning 2015 team, started and played 90 minutes in Portland’s first game against the defending NWSL champion Courage.

After spending her previous four years with the Sky Blue FC, Rodriquez looked solid in the midfield with her new team in a 2-1 loss.

In a scoreless tie to the Chicago Red Stars, Ogle started and played 90 minutes in her Challenge Cup debut for Portland.

Rodriguez came on late as a substitution and narrowly missed a goal with her left foot in the 73rd minute.

Had Rodriguez scored, Portland would have taken the lead in a match otherwise devoid of scoring. 


Chicago Red Stars

On a team that has used all three of its keepers for at least 45 minutes through two games, former Penn State keeper Alyssa Naeher has logged the most time with a full 90 minutes against the Washington Spirit.

Naeher faced six shots on goal and saved four while ceding two goals in a 2-1 loss to the Spirit.

Naeher made a mistake on a botched clearance that led to a goal from the Spirit’s Ashley Hatch in the 46th minute.

Hatch’s goal would prove the decider after the United States Women’s National Team and Spirit’s Rose Lavelle put a shot past Naeher in the eighth minute.

Utah Royals FC

While possessing the largest contingent of Penn State alumni with four players, the Royals FC’s defender Elizabeth Ball was the only Nittany Lion featured in the starting 11 of their opening match.

The Royals FC and Houston Dash had an offensive explosion, with each team notching three goals in a high-scoring draw.

Defender Madeline Nolf briefly entered for the Royals FC while Marissa Sheva and Mallory Weber did not see the field.

Houston Dash

On the opposite side of the Royals FC-Houston Dash matchup, the Dash have two former Nittany Lions on roster in goalkeeper Amanda Dennis and midfielder Christine Nairn.

Though Dennis gave way to keeper Carolyn Campbell in the starting lineup, Nairn entered as a late substitute and notched a shot on goal in her 22 minutes of play.

Sky Blue FC

With only one game under their belt, the Sky Blue FC didn’t use former Penn State defender Kaleigh Riehl in a draw against the OL Reign.

This is Riehl’s first year at the professional level after graduating from Penn State in 2019 as the NCAA’s all-time leader in minutes played as a position player.


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