The National Women’s Soccer League will bring back the Challenge Cup and integrate the event into its plans for 2021, the league announced this week as part of its overall competition framework for the upcoming season.
Players will report to camp on February 1, 2021, with the second annual Challenge Cup starting in mid-April with 10 teams scheduled to participate, including expansion team Racing Louisville FC. The event will take place in multiple bubble environments, team markets or some combination of the two based on guidance from the NWSL Medical Taskforce and public health authorities.
“Bringing back the Challenge Cup is an opportunity for our league to continue growing our fan base and showcase our world class players with an exciting and competitive tournament ahead of the most important international tournament on the 2021 calendar, the Olympic Games,” said NWSL Chief Revenue Officer Mitch Poll. “We’re focused on continuing to build opportunities to expand our reach, expose a global audience to the best women’s club soccer in the world, and provide meaningful opportunities for our teams and players to perform.”
The 2020 season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic and plans were then organized for a Challenge Cup, which included eight of the league’s nine teams — Orlando was held out after a COVID-19 outbreak among players — and was held from June 27 through July 26 in Herriman, Utah, and Sandy, Utah. The league then held a fall series in September and October with each team playing four games in a series of three-team regional pods with games at in-market sites.
Following the 2021 Challenge Cup, the regular season will start in mid-May with each team scheduled to play 24 matches. Six teams will qualify for an expanded NWSL playoffs beginning in November with the top two seeds receiving a first-round bye. The NWSL Championship will be held the weekend of November 20.
“2021 is shaping up to be another big year for the NWSL as we continue to innovate our product, engage our incredible fans and support our players and teams,” said NWSL Director of Operations and Player Affairs Liz Dalton. “Building on what we were able to safely accomplish in 2020, we’re expanding the opportunities for our athletes and teams to thrive, and for our sponsors and partners to invest in our continued growth.”