For the first time in over seven months, the Orlando Pride will play a competitive match. The NWSL is returning in a tournament-style competition. The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup will be a 25-match tournament hosted by the Utah Royals. All games will be played without fans.
“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird in a press release. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”
Each of the nine NWSL teams will play four matches. These matches serve to give seeding for the rest of the tournament. The top eight teams advance and will be put into a knockout bracket.
Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen is creating an “NWSL Village” to house all nine teams. All matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium except for the semifinals and final. Those last three matches will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium — home of Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals FC.
All matches are being aired through CBS. The majority of the games are scheduled to be on CBS All Access. The tournament opener and final will air on CBS.
The Challenge Cup kicks off on June 27, and it will last a month with the championship game on July 26.
This is a huge step for all team sports in the United States. The NWSL started small group training Tuesday, where teams could train with no more than eight players. This lasts until Saturday when full team training is permitted. Both of these phases and the 2020 Challenge Cup require medical protocols to be followed.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Julia Poe reported that the tournament is optional for each player. The players have not yet made their decisions on if they will return.
This was one of my first questions for the club today, but I don't have a definitive answer yet. This tournament is optional for each individual, and the Pride hasn't asked its players to make their official decision yet. I will update as soon as I hear more. https://t.co/7ywhJxTzN4— Julia Poe (@jpoe24601) May 27, 2020
There are still some hurdles to overcome, such as getting some international players back into the United States, as different countries have different travel rules in place. The Pride had all players in market except Scottish international Claire Emslie, England’s Jade Moore, and Aussies Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy as of last week.
The Orlando Pride have been reloading their team after a dismal 2019 saw them finish in last place with a record of 4-16-4 and a goal differential of -29. The Pride have bolstered their defense by bringing in defenders Emily Sonnett, Moore, and Ali Riley, and drafting several back line players.
With just four preliminary games, the Pride will require some luck with the schedule. They will need to win at least one, but likely two of the opening matches to ensure a spot in the playoffs. From there, the team will take it game by game and hope to win its first-ever playoff match.