The GIST: Just four months after the Washington Spirit hoisted the 2021 championship trophy, the NWSL is back, baby. The third annual Challenge Cup kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The setup: Born out of necessity during the pandemic, the Challenge Cup tournament has become a preseason staple, offering squads a chance to jell before the regular season begins.
- The league’s 12 teams (up from 10 last year, more on that in a minute) have been divided into three groups of four and will play each squad in their division twice.
- From there, the top team in each division and the next best overall squad advance to the semis, culminating with the cup final on May 7th. TL;DR: There’s a whole lot of exciting soccer coming our way.
The new teams: The highly anticipated tourney also marks the debut of two expansion franchises: Angel City FC — featuring USWNT star Christen Press — and San Diego Wave FC — who boast Alex Morgan and 2022 No. 1 draft pick Naomi Girma. It’ll be a California Gurls battle when the clubs square off tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET.
The context: Along with the new squads, the start of this Challenge Cup hopefully signifies the beginning of a fresh chapter in the league’s history. In February, players ratified the NWSL’s first-ever collective bargaining agreement (CBA), complete with increased pay and mental health protections.