NWSL set to restart with tourney in Utah

The National Women’s Soccer League is poised to become the first U.S. pro team sports league to resume action amid the coronavirus.

The nine-team league announced Wednesday that it will kick off 2020 play with a month-long tournament to be held in Utah, starting on June 27. No fans will be allowed at the games.

The NWSL Challenge Cup will start with each team playing four preliminary-round games to determine seeding. The top eight teams will then advance to a single-elimination playoff bracket.

The preliminaries and the quarterfinals will be held at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. The semifinals and the July 26 final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Both venues are in Salt Lake County.

The NWSL will provide players with their full salaries, soccer journalist Caitlin Murray reported.

Responding to recent reports that some members of the U.S. women’s national team weren’t on board with the idea of an in-season tournament, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird told Murray, “Each player will have her own decision to make. We won’t require anyone to play in the tournament.”

Baird said in a statement, “As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States. This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”

NWSL Players Association executive directors Yael Averbuch and Brooke Elby said in a joint statement, “The NWSLPA, working closely alongside NWSL, is excited to provide players the opportunity to return to sport, while also securing compensation and other necessities to make sure players’ concerns, feedback and safety are at the forefront of all conversations. As the plans for the tournament unfolded, it was our priority as the NWSLPA to protect our players, and we feel that NWSL shares those values.”

According to Murray, the tournament is being subsidized by Dell Loy Hansen, who owns the NWSL’s Utah Royals, Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake and Real Salt Lake’s top affiliate, Real Monarchs, who play in the USL Championship league.

The Royals and RSL play their home games at Rio Tinto Stadium, while the Monarchs call Zions Bank Stadium home.

In addition to Hansen’s backing, the NWSL secured P&G and Secret as tournament sponsors and CBS as the U.S. broadcaster. Verizon also signed a multiyear sponsorship with the NWSL on Wednesday.

The tournament opener and the championship game will be seen live on CBS, with all other games available on CBS All Access.

The North Carolina Courage are the two-time defending NWSL champions.

–Field Level Media