Fresh off a 2-0 upset win over the Chicago Red Stars, NWSL Challenge Cup MVP Rachel Daly made one thing clear: She and her Houston Dash teammates were playing for pride.
“It wasn’t luck, it wasn’t fluke,” said Daly. “We showed up and we believed.”
Sophie Schmidt converted a penalty five minutes into the game to give Houston an early lead, while Shea Groom sealed the win in the first minute of stoppage time by rounding goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to score.
Daly was well aware of the doubts the Dash faced heading into the month-long tournament. She’s been with the team for “a long five years, a difficult five years,” as she pointed out after the final, that saw the team fail to reach the playoffs even once.
The drought ended for Houston as the 28-year-old from England put on a show at the fanless tournament, held inside a quarantined “bubble” over four weeks in Utah, with two assists and three goals including a diving header in the 68th minute of her team’s 1-0 semifinal victory over the Portland Thorns.
Sipping on a beer at a post-match press conference Sunday, Daly said the team played “for the city of Houston,” heaping praise on her teammates, crediting her standout performance to “everyone behind me.”
“We’re such a special team this year,” said Daly. “These girls are special people, absolutely phenomenal.”