Coloradans off to hot start in NWSL Challenge Cup as regular season set to kick off this week The Denver Post

It’s been a monumental spring for the women’s soccer community of Colorado.

Yes, the USWNT is coming to Commerce City in June, but in order for local favorites to be a part of Vlatko Andonovski’s squad, they must remain consistent at the club level.

The NWSL regular season is set to kick off this week, but the Challenge Cup, a preseason tournament, produced plenty of moments for local players. Seven Coloradans have scored a total of 15 goals in the tournament so far.

Entering the 22-game regular season, which begins Friday and ends in September, with the playoffs running into October, there are 14 women from Colorado who will look to make an impact. Here’s a look at some of the Centennial State’s finest ahead of the opening whistle.

Portland Thorns FC

Sophia Smith, Windsor — Smith has recorded three goals so far in the Challenge Cup, a hat trick against Angel City in the Thorns’ home debut last month. The Fossil Ridge High alum did the same against Uzbekistan in a friendly for the USWNT last month. Smith scored seven goals last year, but will look to reach double digits in league play this season.

Natalie Beckman, Aurora — The rookie from DU has been a spark off the bench for Portland, as she has played 152 minutes, started once and assisted Smith in a stunning goal. Despite being listed all of 5-foot-2 and being picked third-to-last in January’s draft, the Grandview High grad has already proven she is dangerous in the attack and can make an impact when called on.

Janine Beckie, Highlands Ranch — The newest addition to Portland, Beckie, a Valor Christian alum, arrived earlier this month from Manchester City. Beckie, who opted to play for Canada on the international stage, will look to be a key piece in the final third this season.

Racing Louisville FC

Jaelin Howell, Lone Tree — The No. 2 overall selection from Florida State is quickly adjusting to life in the NWSL. Howell, a Fossil Ridge High alum, recently scored her first goal for the senior USWNT. And she backed up that international tally with her first professional goal last week. Expectations are high for the two-time MAC Hermann Trophy winner, with Howell a likely rookie of the year contender.

Lauren Milliet, Durango — The only Coloradan who grew up outside the Front Range currently in the league, the Colorado College product played in all 24 games for Racing last year. She scored once in the Challenge Cup, and is looking to foster a Centennial state connection with Howell in the Racing midfield.

Kansas City Current

Kristen Hamilton, Littleton — Hamilton has been on fire to start the season, leading the Current to a Challenge Cup semifinal spot with four goals, including Saturday’s game-winner. With that consistency and other strong pieces around the Columbine High grad, the Current will look to challenge for a playoff spot this year.

Alex Loera, Thornton — The Current rookie, a three-time West Coast Conference defender of the year at Santa Clara, has adjusted brilliantly so far. The Acamdey grad has made five starts in six games for 428 minutes, and one miraculous goal, the first of her professional career.

Chicago Red Stars

Mallory Pugh, Highlands Ranch — Not to be outdone in the goal-scoring category is Pugh, who has scored four times for the Red Stars this year. The Mountain Vista High product has also scored four times for the USWNT, and should be a lock for the Concacaf W Championship, the 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifying event in July.

Other Coloradans in the NWSL — Washington Spirit: Jordan Baggett (Highlands Ranch); OL Reign: Ally Watt (Colorado Springs); North Carolina Courage: Ryan Williams (Centennial); Angel City FC: Brittany Isenhour (Littleton); NY/NJ Gotham FC: Estelle Johnson (Fort Collins); San Diego Wave FC: Sydney Pulver (Parker).

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