The one-off NWSL Challenge Cup begins on Saturday 27 June and this is everything you need to know about the competition unique to 2020...and one that's already made some headlines in the US before kickoff.
What Is the NWSL Challenge Cup?
With the 2020 NWSL season cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Challenge Cup will serve as a one-off replacement tournament in the shortened timeframe.
The NWSL season would already be halfway through by this time of year, but the delay from being unable to play because of the public health crisis has ensured there wouldn’t be scope to finish if a full campaign were to begin now.
The whole Challenge Cup tournament will be played in Utah, split between the Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman and the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy. Staging it in a localised based will minimise the risk of spreading infections by negating travelling across the United States, with players to live in a controlled environment in what has been dubbed an ‘NWSL Village’.
The Challenge Cup will last one month, with an initial round-robin phase beginning on 27 June and concluding on 13 July. The seeded knockout bracket, which will be determined by the round-robin standings, will then begin with the quarter-finals on 17/18 July. Both semi-finals will be on 22 July, followed the 2020 Challenge Cup final at Rio Tinto Stadium on 26 July.
Which NWSL Teams Are Playing?
Only eight of the nine usual NWSL clubs are involved in the Challenge Cup. That is because the Orlando Pride withdrew only five days before the tournament is due to begin as a result of six players testing positive for COVID-19 and a further four staff members.
Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, OL Reign, Portland Thorns, Sky Blue, Utah Royals and Washington Spirit are all still competing.
Have Any Players Pulled Out?
All NWSL players have been given the option of abstaining from the Challenge Cup without the risk of breaching their contracts and some have exercised that right, including big names.
The most obvious absentee is USWNT icon and 2019 World Cup hero Megan Rapinoe, who has opted out of playing for OL Reign. International colleagues Tobin Heath and Christen Press of Portland Thorns and Utah Royals respectively have also pulled out.
Alex Morgan will also not be playing. The USWNT striker gave birth to her first child in early May, which would have made participating difficult – but she was at least in touch with Orlando Pride about potentially returning to action, until the club withdrew completely.
How Can I Watch it?
All games are being played behind closed doors without fans, but every fixture will still be available to watch. For fans in the United States and Canada, the opening game and final will be broadcast live on CBS and streamed on CBS All Access. All other games will be streamed on CBS All Access.
International audiences can catch all the Challenge Cup games on Twitch.tv and through Twitch’s apps on iOS and Android platforms.