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NWSL Announces Return of Challenge Cup in 2021, Expanded Playoff Field

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The National Women's Soccer League will play another Challenge Cup ahead of the 2021 season and the league plans to expand its playoff field for the first time ever.

The NWSL announced its new competition framework for 2021, including a six-team playoff field that allows the top two seeds from the regular season to receive byes into the semifinals. The NWSL Championship will be held during the weekend of Nov. 20, 2021.

The league's 2020 regular season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the NWSL later hosted a month-long Challenge Cup and seven-week Fall Series.

The Challenge Cup was such a success this summer that coaches and players suggested the NWSL should hold an annual cup competition. The league did just that by adding the event to its competition framework.

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"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," NWSL chief revenue officer Mitch Poll said in a statement.

"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."

Players will report to camp on Feb. 1, 2021, with the first competition coming in mid-April when the NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off. Based on guidance from the NWSL Medical Taskforce and public health authorities, the 2021 Challenge Cup will take place in multiple bubble environments, team markets or some combination of the two.

The 2021 regular season will kick off in mid-May, with each team slated to play 24 matches. The league's schedule has been adjusted to work around the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in July 2021.