NWSL to Return With One-Month 'Challenge Cup' Tournament in Utah

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The National Women's Soccer League announced its plan to return with the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, which will take place from from June 27 to to July 26 in Utah. All nine teams will play in a 25-game tournament that will be held without spectators at the facilities used by NWSL's Utah Royals FC, MLS's Real Salt Lake and USL Championship's Real Monarchs. 

All of the league's teams will play in a preliminary group round, while eight will advance to a knockout stage. The semifinals and final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The tournament opener and final will air on CBS. All other games will be broadcast live on CBS All Access. Fans outside the USA can stream games via Twitch. It's possible that this is a precursor to a regular season that will commence later in the summer or in the fall in all of the league's markets when it's deemed safe to do so.

NWSL's season was supposed to start on April 18 but was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”

All players, officials and staff members will be tested for the coronavirus at least 48 hours before they depart for Utah and upon arrival. The NWSL Medical Task Force will also conduct testing, temperature readings and symptom reviews while teams stay in Utah. Its full protocols are listed here.

As part of the negotiation process for this tournament, the NWSL Players Association was able to secure guaranteed contracts for all contracted NWSL players and accommodations for players with children during the tournament, among other benefits.

"We are proud to move forward supporting this tournament and the NWSL," NWSLPA codirectors Brooke Elby and Yael Averbuch said in a statement. "We are also appreciative of the extensive planning that has been done by the NWSL and the NWSL Medical Task Force, in collaboration with our Association, in order to protect our players while offering an exciting 2020 competition model. We will continue to work closely with the NWSL to ensure that player health and safety remains a paramount priority." 

The U.S. women's national team also expressed its support of the NWSL's decision to return with this tournament. All 23 players from the USA's 2019 World Cup championship team play in the league.

It remains to be seen whether all of those World Cup champions will participate, however. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that multiple U.S. regulars would skip the tournament over health and safety concerns. It's safe to assume that Alex Morgan, who had a baby May 7, will not be playing, and a number of her international teammates could join her on the sidelines. One of her club teammates with the Orlando Pride, U.S. goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, has been outspoken about the tournament prior to it becoming official.

The union that represents the U.S. women's national team issued a statement saying that it reached an agreement with U.S. Soccer that it is each player's choice whether to participate and that those choices would be supported.

NWSL's announcement makes no mention regarding whether the tournament is optional or whether there would be discipline or ramifications for players who elect not to participate.