20 October 2020

NWSL: A review of the Challenge Cup, Fall Series, coronavirus disruptions and a look ahead to 2021

The curtain has come down on the National Women’s Soccer League for another year and so we felt it was time to look back at a successful, albeit strange, year of football.

The regular season was due to kick off on April 18 but this was postponed after the pandemic hit and so NWSL bosses created the Challenge Cup and Fall Series to allow players to compete.

Soccer was the first domestic sports league to return in the US when the Challenge Cup got underway in June and it  was completed without a single positive coronavirus test.

After the Challenge Cup ended in July, to mitigate the spread of the disease, the NWSL then developed the Fall Series which saw three groups made up of three local teams to limit the amount of travel for each club.

However, the unpredictable nature of when players would be able to compete has lead to a whole host of stars signing for clubs overseas.

Here is a review of all the highs and lows of the 2020 NWSL season.

Tournaments and trophies

The Challenge Cup was competed between eight teams after Orlando Pride were forced to withdraw before the start of the tournmanet due to several positive Covid-19 results.

Despite the controversial start to the tournament, it proved to be a hugely successful competition with audience ratings up on their usual levels.

And a huge 653,000 people tuned into CBS to watch Houston Dash claim their maiden title in their 2-0 victory over Chicago Red Stars in the final in July.

Dash’s Rachel Daly picked up the Golden Boot and the Most Valuable Player award after an outstanding tournament as club captain.

Daly told NewsChain after the victory: "Yeah, it was great, it was a real honour, especially being able to captain the team. I didn't really know what to do, I've never been a captain and I've never won a trophy so it was actually quite surprising.

"But it was really nice to win and I think, given the circumstances of this year, I think it was really important for us to win this tournament."

Meanwhile, Portland Thorns FC dominated their location-focused group to win the Fall Series as they were crowned the winners earlier this month.

Their group was made up of OL Reign and Utah Royals FC. They defeated Reign both home and away and beat Royals at home, falling short of a 100 per cent record only by virtue of a draw on the road.

Players signing abroad

The everchanging and risky nature of the season meant the league implemented a clause where players could opt out of competitions but still be paid their salary.

Players, such as Megan Rapinoe opted out of the competitions based on injury and Covid-19 related reasons.

And the environment in the league has meant multiple players have chosen to play abroad.

Heath and Press have both signed for United (PA)

Many have gone out on temporary loans - including Denise O’Sullivan who has moved to Brighton and Alex Morgan at Tottenham Hotspur - but a lot of star names have signed long-term contracts abroad.

World Cup winners Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle have both signed for Women’s Super League side Manchester City, while Christen Press and Tobin Heath have moved to Manchester United on one-year deals.

Whether all the NWSL players who have moved away will return when the regular season resumes is not yet known.

A look ahead to 2021

The league does not yet have a confirmed start date for the 2021 season but it will be a year where the league expands from nine teams to ten.

Racing Louisville FC will be added into the league next year and an expansion draft where they can sign players will be held in a few weeks time.

The league will then look ahead to another expansion in 2022 when Angel City, an LA based team ran by Hollywood stars such as Natalie Portman, will be entered into the league.

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