Expanding NWSL to open with Challenge Cup in April

March 10 – The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will kick off its 2021 season with the NWSL Challenge Cup April 9.

The NWSL Challenge Cup was introduced for the first time in 2020 as a precursor to the regular season, giving teams the opportunity to begin play having been locked out by the coronavirus from the start of their usual season.

The format reduced the amount of travel of teams and the covid spread risk, as well as showing that the league could effectively manage the safety issues and get teams back in competition when it was unclear what the regular season would look like.

The competition proved a success, not just in covid times, but delivering the sporting integrity and broadcast engagement numbers to make it part of the NWSL’s calendar.

Presented by sponsor Secret Deodorant, the league’s 10 teams will play in two divisions, East and West. Each team will play four matches in home markets. The top team from each division will play in the final slated for May 8, 2021 on CBS – venue still to be decided.

The 21-game will be opened with a rematch of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup final between Houston and Chicago at BBVA Stadium.

Opening matches will also see NWSL debutants Kansas City’s against Portland Thorns FC at Providence Park. Also making their NWSL, Racing Louisville FC will open their campaign on April 10 when they host the Orlando Pride.

“We’re ready to build on our success of the last year and I couldn’t be more excited to open the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup presented by Secret the same way we left off in the summer of 2020, watching Houston and Chicago showcase the very best in women’s professional soccer,” said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird. “I want to thank Secret for once again helping us put on this incredible event, and for their continued commitment to the NWSL and our players, including the NWSL’s 2021 rookie class.”

The NWSL made a mark in the US being the first of the major leagues to restart play following the lockdown. It was also significant in that during a time when big men’s leagues were restarting – either funded by federations, broadcasters or sponsors – women’s top tier leagues and competitions weren’t being given the same parity to restart.

The Secret Deodorant sponsorship (a Gillette brand) and the support of CBS, were the catalyst for the NWSL to restart.

“As a women’s brand, we are especially proud to systemically address the lack of representation and sponsorship in women’s sports through our NWSL partnership,” said Sara Saunders, Senior Brand Director, Secret & Gillette. “By supporting the Rookie program this year, we will strengthen the development pipeline for women’s professional soccer.”

Following the Challenge Cup, the NWSL’s 10 teams will start a 24-game regular season beginning May 15. The league will not break for the 2021 Olympic Games and will finish its regular season October 30. Six teams will qualify for an expanded NWSL playoffs with the NWSL Championship final scheduled for November 20.

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