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What I Learned – NWSL Challenge Cup: Houston tops Utah in penalty kicks

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Goalkeeper Jane Campbell punched away Vero Boquete’s attempt and the Houston Dash advanced to the Challenge Cup semifinals 3-2 on penalties after a scoreless draw Friday night against the Utah Royals.The fourth-seeded Dash will play the Portland Thorns on Wednesday morning for a spot in the final of the National Women’s Soccer League tournament.Under tournament rules, the game went straight to a penalty shootout rather than extra periods. The game was just the second in NWSL history to go to penalties after the 2016 league championship game.Amy Rodriguez opened the shootout for fifth-seeded Utah but hit the crossbar. Campbell emphatically clinched it for the Dash on Boquete’s attempt.The teams also met to open the tournament and played to a 3-3 draw. The teams entered Friday night’s match with identical 1-2-1 records.Boquete had a good chance on a free kick early in the game, but Campbell, who had the sun in her eyes, was able to get a hand on the ball for the save. Nichelle Prince’s attempt for Houston late in the first half hit the post.Houston played with determination to start the second half, but couldn’t score. Christine Nairn’s free kick in the 82nd minute was just wide after Utah’s Rachel Corsi fouled Rachel Daly as she sprinted toward the goal.U.S. national team defender Kelley O’Hara started for the Royals for the first time in the tournament after returning from an injury. She subbed out at the break.Utah defender Elizabeth Ball was taken out of the game in the opening half as a precaution with what appeared to be a left leg injury.Earlier in the day the eighth-seeded Thorns clinched a spot in the semifinals with a surprising 1-0 victory over the top seeded North Carolina Courage, the two-time defending league champions.The group stage determined seeding for the league’s eight teams. The ninth, the Orlando Pride, withdrew from the tournament before it started after a number of players tested positive for coronavirus.The two other quarter-finals were set for Saturday.

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