Soccer: NWSL Challenge Cup Final-Chicago Red Stars vs Houston Dash

The National Women's Soccer League have a new framework for 2021, which includes the return of the Challenge Cup, and a 24-game regular season before playoffs. Following the draft and the offseason, here are the key dates you need to know for NWSL in 2021:

Key dates

  • Feb. 1: Players will report to camp
  • April 9: 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup begins
  • May 15: 2021 NWSL regular season begins
  • Oct. 30: Regular season concludes
  • Nov. 6: NWSL playoffs begin
  • Nov. 20: NWSL championship
  • December 16: Expansion draft (Angel City/Sacramento)

When will the expansion teams join the fray?

The 2022 season will include the addition of new clubs in Los Angeles and Sacramento, which will leave the league at 12 clubs. Both teams will have plans for While those two franchises will still have to wait a year before joining the fray, Racing Louisville FC will begin play in 2021 at Lynn Family Stadium. It's also worth noting that NWSL will return to Kansas City in 2021 after the Utah Royals ceased operations three years after leaving Kansas City in 2017. The player-related assets were transferred to the K.C. franchise, under a new ownership group led by Angie and Chris Long of Palmer Square Capital Management. 

What will the Challenge Cup look like?

Players reported to camps in February, with the Challenge Cup set to kick off April 9. The 2021 Challenge Cup final is slated for May 8. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the league announced that, with the assistance of the NWSL medical taskforce and public health authorities, the 2021 Challenge Cup will take place in home markets. The league has also released updated medical protocols for the new and expanded 2021 competition framework which includes differentiating quarantine protocols for travel depending on non-team, trade, or national team based travel.

The 2021 Challenge Cup will kick off with a rematch of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup final between Houston and Chicago at BBVA Stadium. The 21-game tournament will be played in group play with each team playing four matches followed by the final. The opener and three additional games will air on CBS Sports Network, the final will air on the CBS Television Network and stream on Paramount+. Every other game will stream exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S.

Secret and the league are creating a NWSL Rookie Class program. Through this program there will be sponsorship opportunities for NWSL rookies competing in the tournament. By creating this program Secret and NWSL hope to continue to build media equity for women in sports.

"We're ready to build on our success of the last year and I couldn't be more excited to open the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup presented by Secret the same way we left off in the summer of 2020, watching Houston and Chicago showcase the very best in women's professional soccer," said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird. "I want to thank Secret for once again helping us put on this incredible event, and for their continued commitment to the NWSL and our players, including the NWSL's 2021 rookie class."

This year's tournament will see the league's 10 teams organized into two divisions, East and West. The West division includes the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City, OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC. The East is comprised of Racing Louisville FC, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit.  Similar to Fall Series, each team will play four matches in home markets, followed by the top team from each division competing in the final. The championship site will be determined by the league at a later date. 

When will the NWSL season schedule come out?

The full league schedule will be released Tuesday. Baird hinted hinted that the league could continue its schedule while the United States participates in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo (July 21-Aug. 6), which means plenty of teams could be stripped of their star national team players at some point during the season.

"We're also busy finalizing our plans for the '21 season. We'll have our full schedule announcement in the coming days," Baird said. "... On the commercial front, 2021 will be another year of growth. CBS and Twitch continue to increase their investments in our success, and we are renewing national partners and we'll have additional sponsors to announce in the coming weeks. Our clubs are doing the same at the local level. Women's club soccer has never been stronger in the U.S. and around the world, and we're ready to take full advantage of the spotlight, and as many have already said, bet on women."

How many games will be played?

The regular season will start at some point after the conclusion of the 2021 Challenge Cup, which could come around in mid-May. Each team is scheduled to play 24 matches, with a potential Olympics on the horizon, and a new International Women's Cup that Racing Louisville FC and Chicago Red Stars will participate in alongside two additional Champions League teams to be named later. 

What will the NWSL playoffs look like?

Playoffs are expanding for the 2021 season. A total of six teams will qualify for NWSL playoffs, set to take place beginning Nov. 6 2021, with the top two seeds receiving a first-round bye. The final is tentatively expected to take place on Saturday, Nov. 20. We'll have more clarity when the schedule is formally unveiled.

NWSL club preseason previews 

All NWSL clubs are  currently in markets going through preseason. Players and staff reported on Feb. 1 and to date the current timeline is longest ever preseason in NWSL history. Check in with each team and their preseason with our NWSL preseason previews, more teams will be added and updated.

How can I watch NWSL matches?

CBS Sports and Twitch are the broadcast home of NWSL in the United States. Last season matches were aired on CBS, CBS Sports Network and CBS All Access. ViacomCBS' existing subscription video-on-demand and live streaming service, CBS All Access, has been rebranded as Paramount+ as part of the service's expansion to feature content from ViacomCBS' leading portfolio of broadcast, news, sports, and entertainment brands.