July 26 (Reuters) - The Houston Dash upset the odds to win their first National Women’s Soccer League title on Sunday by beating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 to capture the Challenge Cup.
The NWSL, the first major pro league in North America to return to action amid the COVID-19 outbreak, held the month-long standalone tournament in a “bubble” in Salt Lake City, Utah.
There were no positive COVID-19 tests out of more than 2,000 conducted over four weeks.
Houston took an early lead after Sophie Schmidt converted a penalty five minutes into the game after Kristie Mewis was fouled in the area.
“I just stuck with the plan and knew that I was going to deliver for my team,” Canadian international Schmidt told a sideline reporter at halftime.
Midfielder Shea Groom sealed the win in the first minute of stoppage time by rounding goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to score, giving Chicago, runners-up in the 2019 league campaign, no hope of coming back.
Tournament MVP and England international Rachel Daly said the victory was vindication of the hard work of her team mates.
“Grit and determination and courage - and I think I could use all those cliche words but they actually mean something,” said Daly. “Nothing breaks our circle.”
It was heartbreak yet again for the Red Stars, who lost 4-0 in last year’s NWSL championship decider against the North Carolina Courage and had hoped for redemption at the one-off Challenge Cup tournament.
Sunday’s action started with a salute to the Challenge Cup’s “real heroes” - medical experts, support staff and other personnel who helped operate the tournament - followed by the playing of the national anthem, during which many players knelt in support of racial justice. (Reporting By Amy Tennery Editing by Chritian Radnedge)