One day after the Orlando Pride withdrew from the NWSL Challenge Cup because of a coronavirus outbreak among the team — and one day before the other eight teams start arriving in Utah for the tournament — the NWSL announced a new schedule for the competition Tuesday.
The league was able to keep most of the event’s structure intact. Teams will still play four games each in the first stage, and North Carolina-Portland remains the opener Saturday on CBS3 (12:30 p.m.).
New Jersey-based Sky Blue will now face Tacoma, Wash.-based OL Reign on June 30, the Utah Royals on July 4, the Houston Dash on July 8, and the defending champion North Carolina Courage on July 13.
Because the field now has eight teams in the field instead of nine, they’ll all advance to the knockout rounds. The first tiebreaker after points in the standings will be head-to-head results if those teams have played each other, followed by goal difference, goals scored and disciplinary record.
The eight teams confirmed their tournament rosters on Tuesday, making official some reports about players opting out. Any player in the league is allowed to opt out without repercussions, and will still receive her full salary and benefits for the year.
Three U.S. stars chose to not participate: Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Christen Press (Utah Royals) and Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns). The first two of those were already known, but Heath’s decision wasn’t.
“Although I want to be on the field with my teammates doing what I love, because of the uncertainty and risks created by COVID-19, I have chosen not to participate in the NWSL Challenge Cup,” said Heath, a New Jersey native, in a statement.
Thorns general manager Gavin Wilkinson said, “We support and respect Tobin’s decision regarding the tournament.”
Rapinoe’s decision became public in early June when Reign manager Farid Benstiti told French newspaper Le Progrès that the player wouldn’t take part. The team never publicly confirmed that, but in its roster announcement it said, “As previously reported, Megan Rapinoe has elected to forgo playing.“
Reign CEO Bill Predmore said, “Farid and I would love to have her with the club for the tournament, but we understand and respect her decision.” There was no statement from Rapinoe or Benstiti.
Press’ decision was reported in early June by the Salt Lake Tribune. She issued a statement Tuesday that was the most forthright of anyone’s.
“It is deeply painful not to be able to play the game I love, and to watch the broader effects of the global pandemic on our league, sports, and our world,” Press said. “Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this tournament. I know how fortunate I am to be able to make this choice. I have enormous respect and gratitude for those who do not have the luxury to choose whether to report to work, including our selfless and heroic first responders.”
The day’s other major news came from Sky Blue FC, which announced that Mallory Pugh — the team’s marquee offseason acquisition — won’t play due to a right hip injury suffered before the preseason started. Sky Blue said Pugh made it onto the field in the final stages of pre-tournament practices, but needs additional recovery time to be in playing shape.
Sky Blue’s other offseason signings, veteran winger Margaret Purce and defensive midfielder McCall Zerboni, will play in the tournament.
“We have blended a talented group of experienced senior players, new signings, and some young players wanting to showcase their talent in the league,” manager Freya Coombe said. “They have responded well as a group through the adversity of the last few months and have shown great resilience and mental agility.”
All of the other U.S. World Cup players on the eight teams participating will take part in the tournament, including stars Julie Ertz (Chicago), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Sam Mewis (North Carolina), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland), Lindsey Horan (Portland), and Rose Lavelle (Washington).
Notable international names on board include Brazil’s Debinha (North Carolina), Canada’s Christine Sinclair (Portland), Japan’s Yuka Momiki (OL Reign) and Yuki Nagasato (Chicago), Spain’s Verónica Boquete (Utah), and Wales’ Jessica Fishlock (OL Reign).
Click here for the full tournament rosters.
All games in the tournament will kick off at either 12:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. ET to avoid the worst of the summer heat. Broadcasts will be via CBS’s subscription service CBS All Access, which costs $5.99 per month. CBS will also televise the tournament opener and final on its main broadcast network.
Games through the quarterfinals will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, home of the USL’s Real Monarchs and MLS team Real Salt Lake’s academy. The semifinals and final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, home of the Royals and RSL.
Saturday, June 27: North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns (12:30 p.m.), Chicago Red Stars vs. Washington Spirit (10 p.m.)
Tuesday, June 30: Houston Dash vs. Utah Royals (12:30 p.m.), OL Reign vs. Sky Blue FC (10 p.m.)
Wednesday, July 1: Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars (12:30 p.m.), Washington Spirit vs. North Carolina Courage (10 p.m.)
Saturday, July 4: Utah Royals vs. Sky Blue (12:30 p.m.), Houston Dash vs. OL Reign (10 p.m.)
Sunday, July 5: North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars (12:30 p.m.), Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit (10 p.m.)
Wednesday, July 8: Utah Royals vs. OL Reign (12:30 p.m.), Sky Blue FC vs. Houston Dash (10 p.m.)
Sunday, July 12: Washington Spirit vs. Houston Dash (12:30 p.m.), Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals (10 p.m.)
Monday, July 13: OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns (12:30 p.m.), Sky Blue FC vs. North Carolina Courage (10 p.m.)
Friday, July 17: Two quarterfinals (12:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.)
Saturday, July 18: Two quarterfinals (12:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.)
Wednesday, July 22: Both semifinals (12:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.)