While professional soccer has been underway in Europe since the Germany Bundesliga restarted on May 16, the game in the U.S. has been on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That will change Saturday, when the National Women's Soccer League will be the first major professional sports league in the United States to return to action when it kicks off a tournament in Utah. The NWSL will have the team sports spotlight to itself for an extended period of time, too, since Major League Soccer's tournament won't start until July 8, and Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL won't return until late July.
The NWSL's tournament — the Challenge Cup — will conclude on July 26 with its championship game (on CBS).
Unfortunately for fans eager to see their favorite players back on the pitch, the Challenge Cup will be without a number of U.S. women's national soccer team stars, as well as an entire team, the Orlando Pride.
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USWNT World Cup-winning goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will be one of the notable players competing in the NWSL's Challenge Cup in Utah. (Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)
Challenge Cup format
The preliminary round will take place June 27-July 13, followed by the eight-team single-elimination knock-out rounds culminating with the championship game on July 26 (on CBS).
Challenge Cup location
The games will be played near Salt Lake City, at Rio Tinto and Zions Bank stadiums in suburban Sandy, Utah. Rio Tinto Stadium is home to the NWSL's Utah Royals and Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake. Zions Bank Stadium is home to the USL's Real Monarchs and Major League Rugby's Utah Warriors.
Challenge Cup on TV
CBS will air the tournament's opening game (North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns FC) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET. CBS also will air the Challenge Cup championship game on Sunday, July 26 at 12:30 p.m. ET. Every game will be available on CBS All Access. CBS Sports Network will offer game replays.
Challenge Cup draw
- Team 1: Chicago Red Stars
- Team 2: Washington Spirit
- Team 3: Houston Dash
- Team 4: Utah Royals FC
- Team 5: North Carolina Courage
- Team 6: Sky Blue FC
- Team 7: Portland Thorns FC
- Team 8: OL Reign
- Team 9: Orlando Pride*
*Orlando Pride withdrew due to COVID-19 outbreak
Just five days before they were scheduled to play their opening game in the Challenge Cup against the Chicago Stars, the Orlando Pride announced that the club would withdraw after six players and four staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sydney Leroux Dwyer posted on social media her disappointment in not being able to participate, writing: "I’m heartbroken. The majority of our team and staff worked our (expletive) off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again. Not just for ourselves but for our families, friends, fans and our city. Good luck to the teams going to [Utah]. Wish we were there with you. Stay safe."
I’m heartbroken. The majority of our team & staff worked our asses off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again. Not just for ourselves but for our families, friends, fans & our city. Good luck to the teams going to UT. Wish we were there with you. Stay safe.
Also, six-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, who also is a member of the Orlando Pride, will not participate.
Some USWNT World Cup winners will not play
Nine players from the U.S. national team that won last year's Women's World Cup will not be participating in the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Megan Rapinoe, arguably the league's most famous player, last year's Ballon d'Or winner and a member of the OL Reign, opted not to participate. Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns) is out due to COVID-19 concerns and Christen Press (Utah Royals) won't play for health-related reasons.
Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh of Sky Blue FC will not play due to injuries.
Really bummed to be missing this and super excited for my teammates to compete! They are going to do amazing. 💙For those that think I’m pregnant, when I am….twitter will the first place I announce it 😊 https://t.co/bB01g79A8q
And, the Orlando Pride's Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger — who each were World Cup winners last summer — will not be participating after their team withdrew from the tournament. Even if the Orlando Pride were to participate, the team would have done so without Morgan, who gave birth to a baby girl in May.
USWNT World Cup winners who will be participating
The North Carolina Courage will feature a quartet of players who helped the U.S. win the Women's World Cup last summer in France. Midfielders Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis, defender Abby Dahlkemper and forward Jess McDonald are all members of the two-time defending NWSL champions.
Defender Julie Ertz and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher are members of the Chicago Red Stars.
NWSL Challenge Cup schedule
All games will air on CBS All Access unless otherwise noted. Games also will re-air on CBS Sports Network.
Saturday, June 27
North Carolina Courage-Portland Thorns FC, 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Chicago Red Stars-Washington Spirit, 10 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 30
Houston Dash-Utah Royals FC, 12:30 p.m ET
OL Reign-Sky Blue FC, 10 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 1
Portland Thorns FC-Chicago Red Stars, 12:30 p.m. ET
Washington Spirit-North Carolina Courage, 10 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 4
Utah Royals FC-Sky Blue FC, 12:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dash-OL Reign, 10 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 5
North Carolina Courage-Chicago Red Stars, 12:30 p.m. ET
Portland Thorns FC-Washington Spirit, 10 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 8
Utah Royals FC-OL Reign, 12:30 p.m. ET
Sky Blue FC-Houston Dash, 10 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 12
Washington Spirit-Houston Dash, 12:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Red Stars-Utah Royals FC, 10 p.m. ET
Monday, July 13
OL Reign-Portland Thorns FC, 12:30 p.m. ET
Sky Blue FC-North Carolina Courage, 10 p.m. ET
Friday, July 17
Quarterfinal 1, 12:30 p.m. ET
Quarterfinal 2, 10 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 18
Quarterfinal 3, 12:30 p.m. ET
Quarterfinal 4, 10 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22
Semifinal 1, 12:30 p.m. ET
Semifinal 2, 10 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 26
Championship game, 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
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