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Washington Spirit announce 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup schedule

We now know when the Spirit’s first four (or, hopefully, five) games of the year are

Courtesy of Washington Spirit and NWSL

The National Women’s Soccer League has announced the full schedule for the 2021 Challenge Cup, which will begin on April 9 with the Houston Dash hosting the Chicago Red Stars in a rematch of last year’s Challenge Cup final. The Washington Spirit will get underway the next day, traveling to play the North Carolina Courage at Sahlen’s Stadium at 3:30pm.

The opening game between Houston and Chicago will be one of four games televised on the CBS Sports Network. The final will be shown nationally and over-the-air on CBS, while all games will be streamed on Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) in the United States. Internationally, all games will stream via the NWSL’s Twitch channel.

As reported by B&RU last month, the Spirit are in the East group alongside the North Carolina Courage, the Orlando Pride, Racing Louisville FC, and Sky Blue FC. The West will include the remaining five teams: the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City NWSL, OL Reign, and the Portland Thorns.

Teams will play two home and two away games, all in-market as opposed to last year’s Utah bubble. The group winners proceeding to the final, which will be played on May 8 at a venue yet to be announced. There are rule modifications for the tournament, including continued use of up to five substitutions and 20-player maximum gameday squads IFAB allowed on a temporary basis due to the pandemic last year.

The Spirit will face the following schedule in the East group:

Washington Spirit 2021 Challenge Cup Schedule

Date Time Opponent Venue
Date Time Opponent Venue
Saturday, April 10 3:30 PM North Carolina Courage Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park
Friday, April 16 7:00 PM Sky Blue FC Segra Field
Wednesday, April 21 7:00 PM Orlando Pride Exploria Stadium
Tuesday, April 27 7:00 PM Racing Louisville FC Segra Field

NWSL will also participate in IFAB’s testing of a new concussion substitution rule, which is spelled out as follows:

A “concussion substitution” may be used regardless of the number of substitutes already used. When a “concussion substitute” is used, the opposing team then has the option to use an “additional” substitute for any reason. A “concussion substitution” may be made:

• Immediately after a concussion occurs or is suspected

• After an on-field assessment, and/or after an off-field assessment; or

• At any other time when a concussion occurs or is suspected (including when a player has previously been assessed and has returned to the field of play).

It is unclear at the moment whether the NWSL regular season will maintain either rule change.

The NWSL will roll straight from the Challenge Cup and into the regular season, with the league kicking off on May 15. The schedule, which will not have a break built in for the 2021 Olympics, will carry on until October 30, with the expanded six-team playoffs beginning a week later. The 2021 NWSL Championship is set for November 20, at a yet-to-be-determined venue.