Challenge Cup set to return as NWSL announces 2021 competition framework

Houston Dash 2020 NWSL Challenge CupGetty Images

The National Women’s Soccer League has announced its competition format for the 2021 season, with the Challenge Cup set to return after its inaugural edition in 2020. 

The 2020 season was severely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Challenge Cup in June and July and the Fall Series in September and October the only competition for the league's nine teams this year.

The NWSL is planning on a more standard schedule in 2021, but the league will still feature the Challenge Cup – this time to kick off the season.

After players report to camp on February 1, the Challenge Cup will begin in mid-April in what the league says will be "multiple bubble environments, team markets, or some combination of the two."

The regular season is then set to kick off in mid-May, with each team scheduled to play 24 matches. 

“Bringing back the Challenge Cup is an opportunity for our league to continue growing our fan base and showcase our world class players with an exciting and competitive tournament ahead of the most important international tournament on the 2021 calendar, the Olympic Games,” said NWSL Chief Revenue Officer Mitch Poll.

“We’re focused on continuing to build opportunities to expand our reach, expose a global audience to the best women’s club soccer in the world, and provide meaningful opportunities for our teams and players to perform.”

Following the regular season, six of the league's 10 teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the top two seeds securing first-round byes. The NWSL Championship will then take place on the weekend of November 20.

“2021 is shaping up to be another big year for the NWSL as we continue to innovate our product, engage our incredible fans and support our players and teams,” said NWSL Director of Operations and Player Affairs Liz Dalton.

“Building on what we were able to safely accomplish in 2020, we’re expanding the opportunities for our athletes and teams to thrive, and for our sponsors and partners to invest in our continued growth.”

After the NWSL had nine teams in 2020, the league is set to welcome Racing Louisville in 2021 as its 10th team.