Red Stars, NWSL will begin season on June 27

The NWSL will return to play with a 25-game tournament in Utah.

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The Red Stars and the rest of the NWSL will begin play next month.

The Red Stars and the rest of the NWSL will begin play next month.

Daniel Bartel/ISIPhotos.com

After suspending its season in March because of COVID-19 concerns, the National Women’s Soccer League is back.

It will return June 27 with a 25-game tournament, with most of the games held at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, the league announced Wednesday on Twitter.

All nine clubs will participate in the Challenge Cup without spectators, but fans can watch every game via CBS All Access. The opener and the championship game will be broadcast live on CBS.

“After we shut down our preseason on March 12, we got to work,” commissioner Lisa Baird said. “We went through a number of scenarios with our owners, and we started with one of the most important components of it, which is putting together our medical task force of 15 physicians.”

The medical task force developed the league’s protocols for the Challenge Cup, which include preseason training guidelines, player and staff testing protocols, positive-test-result protocols and standards for cleaning, disinfection and sanitation.

Seeding for the tournament will be determined after each club plays four games in the preliminary round. The top eight teams qualify for the quarterfinals, which will employ a single-elimination format.

The semifinals and the final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the championship game expected to be played July 26.

There were four hosting bids for the Challenge Cup. Baird explained that Utah jumped out as an early contender because of the state’s positive response to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen explicitly stated that not a single test would be taken away from a citizen of Utah to bring the tournament there.

Along with the Challenge Cup news, the NWSL announced a multiyear deal with Verizon.

The NWSL Players Association worked with the league from the beginning to provide its members with the best opportunity to return to play and was able to secure contract guarantees for all NWSL players under contract, insurance coverage for the 2020 calendar year, accommodations for players with children during the tournament and input on tournament procedures and structure to ensure player safety and well-being.

Rosters for all nine teams will need to be complete by June 21, when teams are set to begin arriving in Utah. The Red Stars are training in accordance with NWSL guidelines at an undisclosed location outside of Illinois.

“We haven’t asked our players to commit [yet],” Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler said. “We made sure there were enough generally that were supportive to go ahead with it. We’ll know the final roster very soon. We expect the vast majority, if not all, will want to be part of it.”

Baird clarified that the league will not require any player to participate in the tourney, and contracts will be honored if they opt out.

Whether the league will continue play after the tournament remains unclear.

“We have not made that decision,” Baird said. “We’re open to it.”

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