(CBS Local/CBS Philly)- The semifinal round of the NWSL Challenge Cup is here with four teams vying for two spots in the championship game set to be played on CBS Sunday, July 26. In the first matchup, the Houston Dash meet Portland Thorns FC. In the second game of the day, Sky Blue FC take on Chicago Red Stars.
For Sky Blue FC, the team has been riding the strong goalkeeping from 25-year-old Canadian Kailen Sheridan, who shined in the team's quarterfinals matchup against Washington Spirit making seven saves and stopping the final penalty kick in the shootout to push the team to advance. Sheridan, who has been with the franchise since being selected in the 2017 Draft, has been dominant throughout the Challenge Cup. She enters Wednesday's match leading in saves and clean sheets, but she is quick to credit the play of her teammates in front of her for her stellar performance to this point.
"It's a different experience coming in and playing in this bubble in this tournament, but the biggest difference for me has been the step up that my teammates have made from last year and the years before. I think their performances in the past games have been incredible and really something to be proud of," said Sheridan in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer. "I'm really happy that they're in front of me and helping me out and making my job a little bit easier. I'm just really proud of everything they have put in, the hard work not only in this tournament but leading into this tournament and I know how hard they worked in the quarantine. I think it's a testament to them as defenders and as a team in general what we can accomplish when we really put our minds to it."
Her teammate, midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, says that Sheridan has proven herself to be one of the best in the world when it comes to the all-around aspects of the position. For Eddy, she found herself in a position against the Spirit that kids dream about growing up in the backyard. The fifth PK taker for Sky Blue, with the shootout tied at 3 apiece, an opportunity to put her team ahead heading into the last shot of the initial round of PKs.
Eddy says that kind of opportunity is one you strive for as an athlete because no matter how it goes, it provides growth.
"For me, and in all of life, it's about opportunities and for me to be in that type of situation where you have that type of pressure," said Eddy. "What you do in that moment helps a lot or it can hurt a lot and I think it's an opportunity most competitors would take because it's a great opportunity to grow as a person whether you make it or not. For me, I'm just glad I had the chance to make it and help the team go through with Kailen's save."
Now, it's a matchup with the Red Stars standing in the way of the championship game. Sheridan says her squad is excited because they didn't get the chance to play Chicago in the knockout round, so playing someone new with an opportunity to test their style against a strong side is something to look forward to.
"I think we're excited more than anything because we didn't play them, to play a new team and really put ourselves in a really great opportunity to show our style of play and perform at the highest level we know we can," said Sheridan. Coming in against Chicago, we know they're a strong team. We know Chicago has a lot of amazing players and for us I think our biggest thing is making sure we play our style and not get pulled in to playing their style."
Throughout the tournament, goals have been hard to come by. Each of these teams enters the semifinals matchup with two goals to their credit over the course of five matches. Part of that, of course, goes to the strong goalkeeping from Sheridan and her counterpart for Chicago, Alyssa Naeher. But, for Eddy, the key to finding that finishing touch is continuing to play within the team's system knowing that the chances will come even in moments of frustration.
"A lot of it I would say comes down to having a new style of play coming in with a new coaching staff, learning that it really can at times be difficult. But, we have to keep sticking to the principles, do it together have each other's backs and with that, the goals will come. Trusting the process. That's a big thing as athletes," said Eddy. "So often it's what can I do to get to this goal or this goal and at the end of the day, what can I do today to get one degree better? That's what our team is choosing to do, although it's hard because sometimes a forward you're like, you have to score if you're not scoring you're not doing your job. Instead you take a deep breath and say what's the team need you to do. They need you to press, they need you to hold, make those runs. It's coming, trust the process."
The next opportunity for the goals to come is set for tonight at 10 p.m. EST/PST when Sky Blue FC meets Chicago Red Stars at Rio Tinto Stadium on CBS All Access.
for more features.