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NWSL Challenge Cup day 1: Game thread, live stream, how to watch

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2019 NWSL Championship Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s been 108 days since the last professional team sporting event in the United States — held at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium — and it surely feels like even longer for most fans. This morning that drought ends with the start of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in Herriman, Utah.

The 2020 NWSL season was meant to be a big step forward for the league — a new commissioner, new TV and streaming deals, new sponsors, a new pool of money to boost player salaries, and expansion on the horizon. The coronavirus pandemic complicated the roll-out, but unlike most domestic leagues in the United States, the NWSL was able to hold onto all of those wins, including guaranteeing every player’s full salary, and repackage them into the Challenge Cup.

The opening game of the tournament features 2019 champions the North Carolina Courage facing the Portland Thorns. This will be the first NWSL game on broadcast TV, and the first outdoor soccer game on CBS since 1976. The evening game sees 2019 runners-up Chicago Red Stars face the Washington Spirit on CBS All Access, the subscription service where most games in the tournament will be broadcast for US and Canadian viewers. International viewers can catch every game on the NWSL’s Twitch channel. The tournament concludes with the championship game on CBS on July 26.

The eight teams competing in the tournament will each play four games in the preliminary round, after which they will be seeded for a knockout round. With the interrupted preseason and short turnaround between games, many coaches will be going with pre-planned substitutions and significant squad rotation for preliminary round games as players build to full fitness. Teams will also have the benefit of revised rules allowing five substitutions and a full bench with every rostered player available for each game.

North Carolina return the vast majority of their juggernaut roster, which won both the NWSL Shield and the Championship trophy last season. Only three players departed from that squad — midfielders McCall Zerboni and Julia Spetsmark, and forward Leah Pruitt, none of whom would have been expected to start in head coach Paul Riley’s ideal XI. There should be no question if the Courage lineup will gel and perform to Riley’s always high expectations.

Portland, meanwhile, is undergoing a significant rebuild. After an underperforming 2019, the team let go many of its international players and traded other starting talents to acquire the top two picks in the draft, snagging forwards Sophia Smith and Morgan Weaver with those selections. They also acquired USWNT centerback Becky Sauerbrunn from Utah and Costa Rican international midfielder Raquel Rodriguez from Sky Blue FC. However, despite those moves to solidify their spine, the Thorns were unsuccessful in their efforts to sign any new internationals and will also be without Tobin Heath, who opted to sit out the tournament, which will put significant pressure on Christine Sinclair to be both the creative force and to score goals. In case that wasn’t enough, Portland received late news that starting goalkeeper Adrianna Franch will be sidelined with an injury. Expect head coach Mark Parsons to use this tournament as a test for his young players to see what work Portland will need to still do as they build toward 2021.

Chicago lost three-time golden boot winner Sam Kerr to Chelsea in the off-season. Replacing a generational talent like Kerr is nearly impossible, so instead the Red Stars focused their off-season on adjusting their playing style and strategy to more broadly distribute their attack. They acquired Kealia Watt, Rachel Hill and Makenzy Doniak to bolster their wide attacking options, and expect more production out of Katie Johnson and Savannah McCaskill in the middle. They also return all of their expected starters at midfield and in defense, providing a sense of familiarity which is critical in the compressed format of a tournament.

The Spirit spent the offseason completing their two-year rebuild under head coach Richie Burke. Washington just missed the playoffs last season, in big part due to not having all of their starters healthy and available at the same time for most of the season. With everyone now healthy, the Spirit could make a serious push into the top tier of teams and establish themselves there for years to come.

How to watch

North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns
Date/Time: Saturday, June 27, 9:30 AM PT
Location: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah
Streaming: CBS All Access (USA/Canada); Twitch (International)

Chicago Red Stars vs. Washington Spirit
Date/Time: Saturday, June 27, 7:00 PM PT
Location: Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah
TV: None
Streaming: CBS All Access (USA/Canada); Twitch (International)

This is your 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Day 1 open thread. Watch with us.

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