NWSL Challenge Cup: Everything you need to know
The month-long NWSL Challenge Cup starts on Saturday
First team sports league to resume play in the USA
Orlando Pride withdrawn after six players tested positive for COVID-19
Soccer is back in the USA. In a significant moment for women’s football, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is set to become the first team sports league in the country to resume play since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NWSL Challenge Cup will feature eight teams competing in Utah – Orlando Pride withdrew participation due to six players testing positive for COVID-19 – in what will amount to a 23-match tournament. The preliminary-round games and quarter-finals will take place at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, while the semi-finals and final will be held at Rio Tinto Stadium, home of Utah Royals and Major League Soccer (MLS) club Real Salt Lake.
Fans from across the globe will be able to watch several stars from the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ in action, including many key players from champions USA, including Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Ertz, among others.
Brazil star Debinha, international goalscoring record-holder Christine Sinclair, New Zealand veteran Abby Erceg, Costa Rican stars Shirley Cruz and Rocky Rodriguez, 2011 Women’s World Cup winner with Japan Nahomi Kawasumi, Wales legend Jess Fishlock and former Spain captain Vero Boquete will also be participating.
There will also be exciting, young players to watch, most notably number one draft pick and FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup™ graduate Sophia Smith.
Back-to-back defending champions North Carolina Courage v Portland Thorns | 27 June 18:30 CEST
Tournament format & schedule
Each team will play four preliminary-round games. Every team will advance to the quarter-finals and will be seeded based on their preliminary-round performances. The quarter-finals will be played on 17 and 18 July with Seed 1 v Seed 8 & Seed 4 v Seed 5 on one side and Seed 2 v Seed 7 & Seed 3 v Seed 6 on the other. The semi-finals are scheduled for 22 July and the final on 26 July. The full schedule can be viewed here on the league's official website.
More news & notes
Due to injuries and/or personal decisions, a few notable names opted out of participating, including USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd (left knee injury), Tobin Heath, Mal Pugh (right hip injury) and Christen Press
Teams will be allowed five substitutions in three total windows after The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) agreed to make a temporary amendment to the Laws of the Game based on a proposal received from FIFA seeking to protect player welfare
There will be no extra time – knockout matches will go straight to penalties
What they're saying
"We were able to get to this timing for two reasons. One was – the first and the most important was – we worked quite extensively to develop the right medical and safety protocols. We got to the point where we said, 'Ok, we're ready to go'. And then we began a phased-in approach to training, where we're doing now. And from that phased-in approach, we were then able to establish June 27 as our kick-off date for our first game." Lisa Baird, NWSL Commissioner [NPR]
How to watch
For fans in the USA, the matches will be broadcast on CBS's platforms. For international fans, the matches will be streamed live on the league's official Twitch.
Did you know?
The opening match and the final of the Challenge Cup will be shown on network television in the USA. According to acting president and general manager of NWSL Media, Lindsay Barenz, it will represent the first time in world history that a professional women's club match of any kind has appeared on network television.