It has been a long, long time since we have been able to see live, professional sports in America. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen the NHL, NBA, and our beloved MLS suspend their seasons. MLB hasn’t even begun, and it doesn’t seem to have any signs of returning any time soon. Overseas, even more leagues have been shut down, including major leagues in France, the Netherlands, and dozens of lower-division leagues.
While we have seen some leagues return to play, like the Bundesliga and the Premier League, we are still about a month out before we will see MLS return to play. As much as they want to pretend like they are the first league to return to play in the United States, there is one coming in earlier: The NWSL Challenge Cup starts this weekend.
If you’ve never watched the women’s league, let’s catch up.
What is the NWSL?
NWSL stands for the National Women’s Soccer League. The league is currently comprised of nine teams, with a tenth expansion team to join in the 2021 season (Louisville) and rumors of a team coming to Los Angeles in the future, too.
The current teams are the OL Reign (formerly the Seattle Reign), Portland Thorns, Utah Royals, Houston Dash, Chicago Red Stars, Orlando Pride, North Carolina Courage, Washington Spirit, and Sky Blue FC. The league is considered one of the best women’s leagues in the world, up there with the W-League (Australia), the FA Women’s League (England), and Division 1 Féminine (France).
What will their return to play look like?
Starting next weekend on June 27th, the NWSL is returning to play with the 2020 Challenge Cup. It is a similar concept to MLS’s tournament in Orlando but will be held in Herriman, Utah.
From the 27th until July 26, they will play a 25-game tournament. Each team will play four regular matches, then the best eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals. The games will be closed to spectators.
Why would I want to watch the NWSL?
Easy—the league is absolutely full of world-class talent. Pretty much every team has at least one player on the U.S. Women’s National Team (You know, the greatest national team in women’s history).
Remember the outstanding performance they had in 2019 when they won their fourth World Cup? All of those women play for teams in the NWSL. Plus, plenty of other national team players are represented across the world. Canada, Australia, Japan—they all have players in the league.
How can I watch?
Fortunately, the NWSL recently signed a deal with CBS and the tournament will be aired entirely on CBS All Access, their streaming service. The opening game and the final will also be shown on CBS. For $5.99/month with a one-week free trial, you can stream all of the games.
Plus, after the soccer is over, you can sit down and watch the must-see CBS All Access exclusives, like *consults notes*... Star Trek: Picard, I guess. (We all know that NWSL is the main selling point.)
The tournament starts on June 27th with the headliner match of the NC Courage vs Portland Thorns kicking off at 10:30 a.m. MDT, followed by Orlando Pride and Chicago Red Stars playing at 8:00 p.m. that night.* You should be able to watch the entire tournament using just the one-month subscription.
*Editor’s Note: It was announced today that after six Orlando Pride players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19, they are withdrawing from the tournament and will not be traveling to Utah. We don’t yet know how that will change the schedule.
Who should I support in the tournament?
I consider it a moral responsibility of any Rapids fan to never support RSL, but to what degree that extends to their NWSL affiliates, the Royals, I can’t say. If you want to support players from Colorado, the team to follow would be the Portland Thorns. They have USWNT star Lindsey Horan and Fort Collins’ own Sophia Smith was selected by the Thorns as the number one pick in the NWSL draft (also making her the first teenager selected in the draft).
Alternatively, if you are a fan of Mallory Pugh, she is now with Sky Blue FC. The third pick of the first draft, Taylor Kornieck, went to the University of Colorado–Boulder and is now with Orlando Pride (though they won’t be at the tournament).
But no matter which team you support, I strongly encourage you to watch. The NWSL is a fantastic league to follow, and if you liked watching the USWNT during the World Cup, they all represent the NWSL in league play.
Be sure to tune in this Saturday at 10:30 a.m. to watch the start of what is sure to be an intense and exciting tournament.