Sophie Schmidt’s penalty sparked Houston to a 2-0 victory over Chicago Sunday to win the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup, the first US team sports event to be held after the coronavirus shutdown.
The 32-year-old Canadian midfielder, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist, scored in the fifth minute as the Dash downed the Red Stars in the empty home stadium of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.
Chicago defender Kayla Sharples pulled down Houston’s Kristen Mewis in the penalty area to set up the opportunity and Schmidt blasted the ball past Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Houston’s Shea Groom added a second goal in the first minute of stoppage time to secure the trophy.
More than 2,000 Covid-19 tests, all negative, were taken by players from eight teams over the past month in a bubble quarantine at suburban Salt Lake City, Utah.
That was after the Orlando Pride were forced to drop out of the event due to six players and four staff members testing positive for coronavirus last month before traveling to Utah.
Women’s World Cup-winning stars Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press were among top players who withdrew from the four-week tournament.
Both Houston and Chicago advanced from the quarter-finals on penalties after goalless draws and into the final with one-goal semi-final wins.
The final capped a big week for the league, which began play in 2013. The NWSL announced an expansion team in Los Angeles for 2022 and welcomes a new club in Louisville for 2021.a