What is the NWSL Challenge Cup? Explain the 2022 season-opening football competition


A new NWSL season kicks off Friday, March 18, but it’s not the regular season that gets us going. There is still more than a month for that.

The official launch of the competitive campaign takes place with the Challenge Cup, a tournament which is in its third edition. It will serve as an appetizer before the 22-game regular season, which begins on April 29, just before the conclusion of the Challenge Cup. The two competitions – the Challenge Cup and the NWSL regular season – will overlap by a week and it will take one or two games to be rescheduled.

The Portland Thorns are the defending Challenge Cup holders, beating NY/NJ Gotham FC in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw last year.

Each NWSL team will play a minimum of six games in the Challenge Cup, with teams that qualify for the final four playing one or two additional games.

Coupled with a 22-game regular season that is followed by the NWSL playoffs, that makes for a busy seven-month season in 2022 from mid-March to the end of October.

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What is the NWSL Challenge Cup?

The Challenge Cup is the first event of the season, which runs from mid-March to early May. It is not officially part of the 2022 regular season.

The Challenge Cup sees the 12 teams of the NWSL divided into three groups of four teams each based on geography.

After each team has played all of their other group opponents twice in a classic round-robin format (six matches in total), the three group winners, plus the best second-place team, reach the semi-finals on May 4. The winners play in the final on May 7.

NWSL Challenge Cup Groups

Eastern Region (4): NJ/NY Gotham FC, NC Courage, Orlando Pride, Washington Spirit

Center Region (4): Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, KC Current, Racing Louisville FC

West Region (4): Angel City FC, OL Reign, Portland Thorns, San Diego Wave FC

This year’s format differs slightly from last season as two new expansion teams (Angel City FC and San Diego Wave) bring the league to 12 clubs in total.

When the league had 10 clubs, the Challenge Cup consisted of two groups of five teams, with the group winners qualifying for the league match.

The Challenge Cup was created in 2020 as the league made its comeback during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament returned in 2021 and is now in its third edition.

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How to watch the NWSL Challenge Cup 2022

  • Appointment: From Friday 18 March to Saturday 7 May
  • Matches: 39 matches spread over 16 days
  • TV channel: CBS, CBSSN (some matches)
  • Streaming: Paramount+, fuboTV

The entire Challenge Cup tournament will be available on the CBS Paramount+ streaming platform.

Select Challenge Cup matches will also air on CBS and CBS Sports Network (CBSSN), and these channels air on fuboTV, which is available to new users with a free trial.

When does the 2022 NWSL regular season start?

The 2022 NWSL regular season begins April 29 with all 12 teams in action on the opening weekend between April 29 and May 1.

Each team will play a balanced 22-game regular season that ends Oct. 2.

Six teams advance to the NWSL playoffs, with the top two teams earning byes to the first round. The NWSL One-Game Championship will be played Oct. 29 at a venue to be determined by the league.


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