Challenge Cup set to return as NWSL announces 2021 competition framework
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NWSL Challenge Cup set to begin with rematch of 2020 finale between Houston and Chicago

The 21-game tournament will feature the league’s 10 teams, including expansion side Racing Louisville

The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup is set to kick off on April 9 with a rematch of last season’s tournament finale.

Kickstarting the tournament will be a clash between the Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars, who met in last season’s final with the former emerging victorious in a 2-0 win.

The Challenge Cup will feature a total of 21 games including a group stage and a finale.

What is the NWSL Challenge Cup?

The first Challenge Cup was held from June 27-July 26, 2020 as the NWSL became the first American professional sports league to make its return from the coronavirus pandemic.

Last season’s tournament featured eight teams, with the Orlando Pride forced to pull out of the competition due to coronavirus concerns.

This time around, the league will be counting on all 10 of its teams, including Orlando and expansion club Racing Louisville in their inaugural season.

Teams will be divided into groups by division, with Racing Louisville, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit in the East group and the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City, OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC making up the West.

Each team will play four matches in home markets, with the top team in each group set to face off on May 8 at a location to be determined in the tournament final.

“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.

What happens after the Challenge Cup?

Following the conclusion of the tournament, the NWSL will begin a 24-game regular season starting on May 15.

The league will play on through the Olympic period, having opted not to have a break during this summer’s tournament, with the regular season finishing on October 30.

After that, six of the league’s 10 teams will qualify for the playoffs, which begin on November 6 and conclude on November 20.

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