National Women’s Soccer League returns: What to know before tournament kicks off

The National Women’s Soccer League will be the first professional team sport to start up again amid the coronavirus pandemic when the players take the pitch on Saturday.

The NWSL had not been underway when the entire sports world shut down because of the pandemic. Barring any last-minute changes, the league will begin its Challenge Cup tournament format for the 2020 season over the weekend when the Portland Thorns take on the North Carolina Courage. The Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit will also play Saturday.

The Challenge Cup will run through July 26. Players will be sequestered in the Salt Lake City suburbs of Herriman and Sandy as the tournament takes place.

RAPINOE, PRESS AMONG PLAYERS OPTING OUT OF NWSL TOURNAMENT

The opener and final will be broadcast on CBS. CBS All Access will air the majority of the games. The international audience can watch the games on Twitch.

Unfortunately, only eight teams will be available to play. The Orlando Pride pulled out of the tournament after several players tested positive for the coronavirus.

Here’s what to know about each team that will take part in the Challenge Cup. Click here for the full roster and game-by-game schedule.

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The Orlando Pride will be the lone team not participating in the Challenge Cup. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

The Orlando Pride will be the lone team not participating in the Challenge Cup. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

CHICAGO RED STARS: The Red Stars were the second-best team in the NWSL last season with 44 points and 14 wins in 24 games. The team lost to the Courage in the final, missing out on its first championship. Some of the players to watch include: Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz, Morgan Brian, Casey Short, and Yuki Nagasato.

HOUSTON DASH: The Dash finished toward the bottom of the NWSL table last season. The team recorded 26 points and seven wins in 26 games. The Dash will look to take advantage of the Challenge Cup this season. Some of the players to watch include: Bridgette Andrzejewski, Rachel Daly, and Jane Campbell

NORTH CAROLINA COURAGE: The Courage is the defending NWSL champions and the best team in the league last season with 49 points and 15 wins in 24 games. They defeated the Red Stars, 4-0, in the final. Some of the players to watch include: Stephanie Labbe, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Debinha, Crystal Dunn, Denise O’Sullivan, and Jessica McDonald.

OL REIGN: The Reign limped into the playoffs last season with 38 points and 10 wins in 24 games last season. The squad will be without Megan Rapinoe for the tournament. The Reign could still make it to the playoffs due to the unpredictable nature of this tournament. Some of the players to watch include: Cecilia Jimenez Delgado, Shirley Crus, Kelcie Hedge, Allie Long, Rebecca Quinn, Rose White, and Sofia Huerta.

PORTLAND THORNS: The Thorns will get things started for the NWSL’s Challenge Cup tournament. Portland is the most decorated club in the league with two titles under its belt and could add a third. Last season, the team finished in third place. Some of the players to watch include: Adrianna Franch, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan, Rocky Rodríguez Rodriguez, Christine Sinclair, Sophia Smith, and Morgan Weaver.

SKY BLUE FC: Sky Blue finished in eighth place last season with 20 points and only five wins. It will be an uphill climb this season as Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh are both out for the tournament because of injuries. Some of the players to watch include: Kailen Sheridan, Jennifer Cudjoe, Naho Kawasumi and Evelyne Viens.

UTAH ROYALS FC: The Royals narrowly missed the playoffs despite going 10-10-4 last season. The team will be without Christen Press for the tournament over the uncertainty of the coronavirus. Some of the players to watch include: Kelley O’Hara, Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, Aminata Diallo, and Tziarra King.

WASHINGTON SPIRIT: The Spirit will also get to play on the first day of the new season. The Spirit will look to rectify narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season. The team was 9-8-7 with 34 points in 2019. Some of the players to watch include: Jenna Hellstrom, Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez, and Kumi Yokoyama.

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