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NWSL announces expanded playoffs, Challenge Cup return for 2021

The NWSL announced that players will report to camp on Feb. 1, with competition starting in mid-April with the Challenge Cup.

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Portland Thorns FC v Utah Royals FC Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The NWSL announced plans for the 2021 season on Wednesday, most notably an expanded playoff structure and the return of the Challenge Cup at the beginning of next year.

As of right now, players are expected to report to camp on Feb. 1 of next year. Competition will start with the Challenge Cup in mid-April. The Challenge Cup will take place in multiple locations as opposed to just one bubble, with the NWSL saying that it will possibly be in multiple bubble environments, team markets, or a combination of both.

The regular season will feature 24 matches for each team starting in mid-May, with the playoffs starting in November. The playoffs will now feature six teams with the top two seeds receiving a first round bye. The championship is expected to take place the weekend of Nov. 20.

You can read the NWSL’s full press release here. You can also read Meg Linehan’s piece for The Athletic on the changes and why Portland Thorns FC could be considered the favorites. (Subscription required.)

Important Quotes:

On what the NWSL has in store for 2021:

“2021 is shaping up to be another big year for the NWSL as we continue to innovate our product, engage our incredible fans and support our players and teams,” said NWSL Director of Operations and Player Affairs Liz Dalton. “Building on what we were able to safely accomplish in 2020, we’re expanding the opportunities for our athletes and teams to thrive, and for our sponsors and partners to invest in our continued growth.”

On the bringing back the Challenge Cup

“Bringing back the Challenge Cup is an opportunity for our league to continue growing our fan base and showcase our world class players with an exciting and competitive tournament ahead of the most important international tournament on the 2021 calendar, the Olympic Games,” said NWSL Chief Revenue Officer Mitch Poll. “We’re focused on continuing to build opportunities to expand our reach, expose a global audience to the best women’s club soccer in the world, and provide meaningful opportunities for our teams and players to perform.”