NWSL - Challenge Cup - 2020 return

Professional soccer in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic is set to return June 27, with the National Women’s Soccer League announcing Wednesday plans for a tournament in Utah that’s dubbed the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.

All nine NWSL teams would participate in the 25-game tournament at Zions Bank Stadium, with the semifinals and finals set for Rio Tinto Stadium – utilizing the shared facilities between MLS side Real Salt Lake, the NWSL’s Utah Royals FC and the USL's Real Monarchs SLC. The Challenge Cup would occur without fans, with matches streamed via CBS All Access and the opener and championship game also airing live on CBS.

The tournament follows an international knockout format, with each club playing four games in the preliminary rounds to determine seeding. Eight will then advance to the quarterfinals, where single elimination determines who advances. The championship game is set for July 26. 

“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.”

Representatives from the NWSL’s nine teams will live in what’s being called the NWSL Village, creating a quarantine-esque living situation for housing, training, and competition needs. Rigorous testing for COVID-19 would take place, as would isolation protocols.

These plans make Dell Loy Hansen, Utah and RSL owner, the de-facto host for the Challenge Cup. They also hinge on avoiding an outbreak and will require meticulous planning.

“With the efforts of our frontline workers, our state’s early adoption of preventative measures, and our facilities at Zions Bank Real Academy, Rio Tinto Stadium, and America First Credit Union Field, Utah is uniquely prepared to host the nine teams in the NWSL and put on a tremendous tournament,” Hansen said. “With the full support of the Governor [Gary Herbert] and the medical experts in our community, we are thrilled to bring the tournament to Utah.”

The NWSL, entering its eighth season, has four clubs with an MLS affiliate. The Houston Dash and Houston Dynamo form one relationship, and then there’s the Orlando Pride and Orlando City SC. Portland Thorns FC are one of the world’s biggest women’s soccer clubs, and they’re run by the same owners as the Portland Timbers. There’s also the aforementioned Utah-RSL connection.

As that unfolds, the return pro soccer in America is one step closer. Additional details are expected to be released soon.