This story was updated after the NWSL announced kickoff times on June 16.
The NWSL announced the schedule for its upcoming Challenge Cup tournament on Monday, starting with a matchup of the league’s biggest teams.
Although the schedule draw was supposedly random — commissioner Lisa Baird picked envelopes from a table — it magically set up the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns to meet on the event’s opening day, June 27. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
If everything goes according to plan, the NWSL will be the first major U.S. pro team sports league to resume playing games since the coronavirus pandemic began.
North Carolina is the two-time reigning NWSL champion, and has had the best regular-season record for three straight years. The Courage met the Thorns in the title game in 2018 and 2019. Portland has the league’s biggest fan base, and set the league’s attendance record last year when 25,218 watched the Courage’s visit in August.
Both teams are also replete with stars. The Courage have Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Jessica McDonald, Abby Dahlkemper, and Debinha; the Thorns have Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, Becky Sauerbrun, and this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Sophia Smith.
It’s not yet confirmed, though, that all of those players will take part. With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, players have the right to decline participation without any punishment from the league — or, in the case of U.S. national team stars, the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Sky Blue FC will play their first game on June 30 against Tacoma, Wash.-based OL Reign. It could feature Delran native Carli Lloyd of Sky Blue and the Reign’s U.S. star Megan Rapinoe, as well as Sky Blue’s new acquisitions, Mallory Pugh and Margaret Purce. Their decisions on participating are also still unknown.
Each of the league’s nine teams will play four games in the event’s first phase to set standings. The top eight teams will then advance to single-game playoffs, leading up to the final on July 26.
All games through the quarterfinals will be played the Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, home of the USL’s Real Monarchs and the youth academy of MLS’ Real Salt Lake. The semifinals and final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, home of RSL and the NWSL’s Utah Royals.
The Chicago Red Stars and Orlando Pride will also meet on the tournament’s opening day. All games will tip off at 12:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. Eastern -- 10:30 a.m. or 8 p.m. local time -- to avoid the worst daytime heat.
CBS will televise the tournament’s opening game and final live on its broadcast network. All games will be streamed live on CBS’s subscription platform, CBS All Access. Many games will be televised on tape-delay on CBS Sports Network.
Here’s the schedule of games in the first round. All times are Eastern.
12:30 p.m.: North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns (CBS)
10 p.m.: Orlando Pride vs. Chicago Red Stars
12:30 p.m.: Washington Spirit vs. Utah Royals
10 p.m.: OL Reign vs. Sky Blue FC
12:30 p.m.: Portland Thorns vs. Orlando Pride
10 p.m.: North Carolina Courage vs. Houston Dash
12:30 p.m.: OL Reign vs. Washington Spirit
10 p.m.: Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals
12:30 p.m.: Sky Blue FC vs. Houston Dash
10 p.m.: Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage
12:30 p.m.: Utah Royals vs. OL Reign
10 p.m.: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns
12:30 p.m.: Chicago Red Stars vs. Houston Dash
10 p.m.: Sky Blue FC vs. Orlando Pride
12:30 p.m.: Utah Royals vs. North Carolina Courage
10 p.m.: Portland Thorns vs. OL Reign
12:30 p.m.: Chicago Red Stars vs. Sky Blue FC
10 p.m.: Houston Dash vs. Washington Spirit
12:30 p.m.: Quarterfinal 1
10 p.m.: Quarterfinal 2
12:30 p.m.: Quarterfinal 3
10 p.m.: Quarterfinal 4
12:30 p.m.: Semifinal 1
10 p.m.: Semifinal 2