2021 NWSL Challenge Cup preview

2021 NWSL Challenge Cup graphic.

The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup brought fans something unique. It was a month-long competition where all eight NWSL teams met in a centralized location to battle it out to take home a new, once in a lifetime trophy.

Though the Challenge Cup served as a short substitution to the 2020 season, it was a wildly successful format for the league. Because of its popularity, the Challenge Cup now makes its transition to becoming a more regular event through its 2021 incarnation. This time around, the World Cup-style tournament will provide teams more experience ahead of the regular season.

Ahead of this year’s Challenge Cup, pandemic concerns are still abound but with guidelines in place to help eliminate the spread of the virus. Stadiums are operating with limited capacity, as COVID-19 regulations from the CDC are in place. Additionally, while home venues will be utilized, teams are now broken up into regions to help condense the amount of travel.

Another change from last year is that we will now see two new teams participate. Racing Louisville and KC NWSL will begin their inaugural NWSL campaigns by way of the Challenge Cup. Orlando Pride is also set to compete in this year’s cup, having missed out last year due to last-minute positive COVID-19 cases. With these three teams entering into the fold, it makes the challenge that much more exciting.

Orlando Pride’s Marta strikes the ball during a preseason match against KC NWSL on March 3, 2021. (Photo by Mark Thor/Orlando Pride)

What to watch for

A rematch of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Championship will take place on April 9, kickstarting the entire competition. Last year’s winners, Houston Dash, are hopeful to remain in possession of the trophy as they take on the Chicago Red Stars.

Following the match, we will see KC NWSL take on Portland Thorns. Players of KC NWSL come predominantly from the former Utah Royals, after the club underwent a change in location and ownership. Thus, the Kansas City-based team will start off their inaugural season with a familiar foe. After all, NWSL fans know that any time Portland and Utah would meet, the action and intensity would be a spectacle. Leading into this season, tensions will be high not only to relive that former rivalry but also for KC to establish themselves in the league.

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Racing Louisville is another team that should be on the radar. The new expansion team is very hopeful entering into this Challenge Cup. With veterans Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato leading the way, the club was able to score several young, top-caliber players from the College Draft. Emily Fox, who featured for the USWNT earlier this year, will be much anticipated in making her club debut.

Another alluring fixture will take place when OL Reign faces the Portland Thorns midway through the group stage on April 21. The Cascadia battle always gets fans across the league excited, but those in Washington and Oregon will surely be at the edge of their seats. Because the two sides are a part of the cup’s West Division, there may be an added intensity when these teams meet. Overall, fans will be able to enjoy this matchup a few times this year as the Challenge Cup is only the beginning of what 2021 has in store for the NWSL.

Portland's Sophia Smith faces off against OL Reign's Jasmyne Spencer.
Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith defends against OL Reign forward Jasmyne Spencer during an NWSL match on October 10, 2020, at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, WA. (Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire)

Out with the old, in with the new

NJ/NY Gotham FC is the newfound name of former club Sky Blue FC. This change took place a week before the Challenge Cup, bringing together the two states that Sky Blue FC called home, New York and New Jersey. The new brand unites the Mid-Atlantic region and presents NWSL fans with something new.

The logo for Gotham FC features the Statue of Liberty crown as well as a typographical play on the NJ/NY initials. This plays into their proximity to “The Big Apple” and the fact that they play their home games in New Jersey.

Where to watch 

Matches will stream live on Paramount +, formerly known as CBS All Access. Anyone that has maintained their subscription of CBS All Access will still have access under the new branding.

In addition, a few games will air on CBS Sports Network and the nationally televised CBS. International viewers can view games on the NWSL’s Twitch channel.

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