The NWSL has confirmed rumors that the league, which concluded a successful Challenge Cup a month ago, will return to play in local markets. Starting on September 5, the league will conduct what it’s calling a “fall series” in local markets, using geographic groupings to play a total of 18 matches (four per team). Notably, CBS will broadcast an NWSL Game of the Week every Saturday in September, and will broadcast three further Saturday games on the CBS Sports Network in October.
Four more games will be streamed on CBS All Access, where most of the NWSL Challenge Cup was shown. The fate of the other seven games is uncertain at this point, as are club rosters and the actual schedule. The latter two are set to be announced “in the next week” according to a league press release.
The Washington Spirit have been assigned to the Northeast pod, with their matches coming against Sky Blue FC and the Chicago Red Stars. The Spirit beat Chicago at the Challenge Cup, but were eliminated on penalties against Sky Blue after being unable to break them down in a 0-0 regulation draw. Historically Chicago has had the better of the Spirit, though Washington won the most important game between the clubs (a 2016 playoff semifinal that went to extra time). Sky Blue, meanwhile, broke a streak of nine straight Washington wins in the series by holding the Spirit to a draw in Utah.
The other pods are the South (Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride) and the West (OL Reign, Portland Thorns FC, Utah Royals FC).
While a schedule has not been finalized, and indeed the Spirit’s venue is not set, The Washington Post’s Steve Goff has reported that the Spirit are most likely going to host Sky Blue in the opening game on September 5:
Teams will play four matches apiece: two at home, one in each of the other pod venues. Schedule tba, but Sept. 5 is first day, expected to be Sky Blue at Washington. Venue tbd.— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) August 25, 2020
Washington players returned to the area around a week and a half ago, and resumed team training on August 17. It is unclear exactly who will be available for the Spirit, but it is worth noting that unlike many NWSL clubs, no Washington players have been loaned to clubs abroad. In anticipation of Rose Lavelle signing with Manchester City, the Spirit traded her NWSL rights to OL Reign just over a week ago.
There have also been significant rumors linking two-time USWNT World Cup winner Kelley O’Hara — who resides in the District during the offseason — to a trade to the Spirit, but as of today no deal has been struck between Washington and Utah.
On the safety front, the NWSL says it has updated the protocols it used successfully during the Challenge Cup to keep players, coaches, staff, and referees as safe as possible while traveling to play in markets:
The NWSL’s return to play protocols reflect the best practices previously developed by the NWSL Medical Task Force and successfully implemented during the Challenge Cup. Those protocols have been updated to reflect the reality of home-market matches and regional travel and will influence all league and club actions outside the field of play.
These regulations include specific protocols on mask-wearing, disinfecting venues and common areas, and rules on travel via bus and plane.