The NWSL will return to play with a 25-game tournament at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.
After suspending its season in March over COVID-19 concerns, women’s soccer is back.
The NWSL will return June 27 with a 25-game tournament at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, the league announced Wednesday on Twitter.
All nine clubs will participate in the Challenge Cup without spectators, but fans can watch every match via CBS All Access. The opener and championship games will be broadcast live on CBS.
“After we shut down our preseason on March 12, we got to work,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said. “We went through a number of scenarios with our owners and we started with one of the most important components of it which is putting together our medical task force comprised of 15 physicians.”
The medical task force developed the league’s protocols for the Challenge Cup, which include preseason training guidelines, player and staff testing protocol, positive-test-result protocol and standards for cleaning, disinfection and sanitation.
Seeding for the tournament will be determined after each club plays four games in the preliminary rounds. The top eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinals, which will be a single-game elimination format.
The semifinals and final matches will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the championship match expected to be played July 26.
There were four hosting bids for the Challenge Cup. Baird explained that Utah jumped out as an early contender to host the tournament because of the state’s positive response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen explicitly stated not a single test would be taken away from a citizen of Utah to bring the tournament there.
Along with the news of the Challenge Cup, the NWSL announced a new multi-year deal with Verizon. The league will be sharing its plan to recognize local sponsors in the coming weeks.
The NWSLPA worked collaboratively with the league from the beginning to provide players the best opportunity to return to play and were able to secure contract guarantees for all contracted NWSL players, insurance coverage for the entire 2020 calendar year, accommodations for players with children during the tournament and input on tournament procedures and structure to ensure player safety and well being.
Rosters for all nine teams will need to be complete by June 21, when teams are set to begin arriving in Utah. The Red Stars are currently training in accordance with the NWSL guidelines at an undisclosed location outside of Illinois.
“We haven’t asked our players to commit [yet],” Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler said. “We made sure there were enough generally that were supportive to go ahead with it. We’ll know very soon the final roster. We expect the vast majority if not all will want to be part of it.”
Baird clarified that the league will not require any player to participate in the tournament and contracts will be honored if they opt out.
Whether the league will continue play after the tournament is still unclear.
“We have not made that decision,” Baird said. “We’re open to it.”