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NWSL Challenge Cup Preliminary Round Brings Soccer back in the States

Portland Thorns' Angela Salem in NWSL action against North Carolina Courage's Denise O'Sullivan | Photo by NWSL | June 27, 2020

This 23-game tournament marks the return of professional sports for the first time in America since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Of course, it’s audience free in the stands.

Reminiscent of a month-long World Cup tournament, running June 27-July 26, the Challenge Cup has games in the morning at 9:30 am and 7:00 pm evening pacific time. Eight teams are competing in four games in the preliminary round. The opening rounds determine seeding for the knockout phase. Semifinals and Final are to be played at Rio Tinto Stadium. Orlando Pride had to withdraw due to players testing positive for Coronavirus. See the format and first round schedule below.

CBS All Access is the best way to watch. CBS and Twitch stream the first and final games.

There are plenty of stars competing, but big U.S. Soccer veterans and names are missing due to injury or concerns, such as Megan Rapinoe, Marta, Emily Sonnett, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath, and Christen Press. Alex Morgan was not expected to play after the birth of her child on May 7. The door is open for plenty of players as they take center stage, eyes are especially on the younger players.

NWSL North Carolina Courage took on the Portland Thorns to kick off the Challenge Cup taking place in Utah on Saturday, June 27.

Bravery was shown on and off the ball. Prior to kick off, all players took a knee during the anthem played on saxophone, wearing masks and Black Lives Matter shirts.

The first game was a mix of veterans and rookies on the field.

NC Courage is still the team to beat with back-to-back championships and depth.  The Portland Thorns strove to kept pressure on them. Both teams had good chances and shots, though altitude, heat, and turf tired out the players early in the first half. Necessary hydration breaks broke momentum. Changing pace and connecting became difficult due to the conditions.

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The first half saw the teams level at 0-0. Thorns keeper Bella Bixby made a big save early and Lindsey Horan had attacks in the second half. Becky Sauerbrunn made her Thorns debut. But, Debinha was the threat for the Courage early and in the 75th minute tapped in the first goal with an assist from Mace, who was another young player expected to be a firecracker in this tournament.

Then, the Thorns’ Charley tied the game up in the 80’.

With six minutes of stoppage time due to injury breaks, North Carolina took the win with a header from Lynn Williams, ending the opening match 2-1.

After other matches resulted in draws, NC took on the top seeds Washington Spirit on July 1. The Courage came out with a 2-0 win after taking advantage of their opponents’ exhaustion. Lynn Williams scored the brace in the second half, the first all on her own after picking off the ball and an assist from Debinha. 

There’s still plenty of tournament left before North Carolina can take it all. 

Saturday, July 4

Utah Royals vs. Sky Blue

Houston Dash vs. OL Reign

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Sunday, July 5

North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars

Portland Thorns vs. Washington Spirit


Wednesday, July 8

Utah Royals vs. OL Reign

Sky Blue vs. Houston Dash


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Sunday, July 12

Washington Spirit vs. Houston Dash

Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals


Monday, July 13

OL Reign vs. Portland Thorns

Sky Blue vs. North Carolina


Friday, July 17

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Quarterfinal 1

Quarterfinal 2


Saturday, July 18

Quarterfinal 3

Quarterfinal 4


Wednesday, July 22

Semifinal 1

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Semifinal 2


Sunday, July 26


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