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NWSL announces format and schedule for 2021 Challenge Cup

After seeing the success with the inaugural NWSL Challenge Cup in 2020, the National Women’s Soccer League is bringing the tournament back, which begins on April 9, the league announced on Tuesday.

Teams opened up their training camps on February 1st, and unlike last year, will be competing out of their home markets in the 2021 edition. Another new item in this year’s tournament is the introduction of two, five-team divisions.

A rematch of the 2020 final kicks off the tournament at BBVA Stadium, home of defending champions Houston Dash, and they’ll square off against the new-look Chicago Red Stars.

From there, all teams will play four matches each in divisional group play, and the group stage winners will advance straight to the final which is set to be held on May 8th.

The full Challenge Cup schedule with viewing information is below, along with a pair of notes.

Regular Season

As far as the rest of 2021 goes, the scheduling is still under wraps, and it is unclear if the divisions will stay in place beyond the Challenge Cup.

Key dates regarding the postseason have been shared, though.

The playoffs will begin November 6th, and the NWSL Championship final will take place on November 20th.


It remains to be seen how the league’s U.S. Women’s National Team stars will be participating in the 2021 action. With the regular season expected to carry on throughout the Summer Olympics, which for those selected for the USWNT, will likely occupy all of July 21st – August 6th. Depth or lack thereof will play a major part in sorting out the NWSL standings.

On a similar note, it is unclear if the European-based USWNTers plan to return to the NWSL in 2021.

Expansion side Racing Louisville took a major gamble by selecting the rights of Christen Press and Tobin Heath who are currently with Manchester United. Three players could come back from Manchester City, too. OL Reign holds Rose Lavelle’s, and the North Carolina Courage hold the rights for Samantha Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper.

So far, none of the players mentioned have made a commitment to the upcoming NWSL campaign.

Full 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup schedule:

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