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NWSL officially unveils details of 2020 Challenge Cup

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League is on schedule to become the first to return to play following national shutdown in mid-March.

As expected based on various reports in the past week, the NWSL officially announced on Wednesday details of the 2020 Challenge Cup. The tournament will take place in Utah beginning June 27, with the final on July 26. Fans will not be permitted to attend, but all matches will be live-streamed on CBS All Access.

Although the NHL had earlier announced plans to return, this plan would put the NWSL on schedule to be the first North American sports league to return to play since sports were effectively canceled in mid-March. MLS is also mulling a plan that would allow a return to play around the same time.

“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,” said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird in a press release. “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 nine NWSL teams will participate in a group stage, where each team will play four matches. The top eight teams will advance to a knockout round. The games will air live on CBS All Access for viewers in the USA and Canada, with the opening game and final game also being broadcast on CBS. International viewers will be able to watch the games on Twitch. Group stage games are planned to take place at Zions Bank Stadium and America First Credit Union Field, while the final three games of the tournament will occur at Rio Tinto Stadium. A full schedule, including game times and further broadcast details, will be released later.

NWSL teams were permitted to begin training in groups no larger than eight earlier this week and are expected to arrive in Utah a few days before the start of the tournament. Although group training is not yet allowed in Pierce County — where the Reign play — the team announced plans to begin training in a nearby county that has been approved and suggested they might arrive in Utah earlier that some of the other teams in order to resume full training.

There is some question about whether all players will participate in the tournament, including some USWNT players who are rumored to be disinterested, but the event has received the blessing of the NWSL Players Association and was cleared by the NWSL’s medical task force, consisting of a team doctor from each club in the league. Along with routine testing locally as part of the league’s return to full-squad training, players, staff and match officials will be tested for COVID-19 two days prior to departure for Utah, a second time upon arrival, and again thereafter at intervals, along with temperature screening and symptom review throughout the tournament. The league has posted their full screening, cleaning, and isolation protocols online.

“The NWSLPA, working closely alongside NWSL, is excited to provide players the opportunity to return to sport, while also securing compensation and other necessities to make sure players’ concerns, feedback and safety are at the forefront of all conversations,” said NWSLPA Executive Directors Yael Averbuch and Brooke Elby in the release. “As the plans for the tournament unfolded, it was our priority as the NWSLPA to protect our players, and we feel that NWSL shares those values.”

As noted in the NWSLPA statement as well as their separate press release, the association was able to secure protections for contracted players who opt to sit out, as well as additional support for players with children and full-year insurance.

At the same time, the league announced new business partnerships with P&G and Secret Deodorant — who will be the presenting sponsors of the tournament — as well as a multi-year partnership with Verizon. Budweiser also continues on as a league sponsor and will present the semifinals, final and tournament MVP trophy.

“All at OL Reign are excited to be back out on the pitch and are deeply appreciative of the efforts of all involved to make the tournament a reality,” said OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore in the release. “Our new Commissioner, Lisa Baird, has masterfully assembled the all the elements needed –including attracting the support of two world-class brands in P&G and Verizon – to allow the NWSL to safely and successfully return to play in Utah this summer.”