SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The National Women’s Soccer League has set the schedule for the opening round of its tournament starting later this month in Utah, with the Portland Thorns playing the defending champion North Carolina Courage on the opening day.
The NWSL is scheduled to be the first U.S. pro team league returning to play amid the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament will be held in the Salt Lake City area starting June 27 with no fans in attendance.
The Thorns and Courage played for the league championship in 2017 and 2018, splitting the results. The Chicago Red Stars and the Orlando Pride will also meet on opening day. One of those games will be broadcast nationally on CBS, the league’s new television partner this season.
The league’s nine teams will play four preliminary round games, with eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals. The final match on July 26 is also set to be broadcast on CBS.
“You knew it was going to happen,” said Thorns coach Mark Parsons, referring to the team’s opening game.
“There’s so many storylines for Thorns playing a lot of teams in this league, so it’s a high probability it’s gonna be a fun storyline. Playing the champions is always going to be fun. It’s a team we’ve got great history with, and to come off the bat and be able to go at them, I think it’s a huge positive,” Parsons said.
The players will be sequestered in facilities used by the NWSL’s Utah Royals and Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake, including a stadium and several training fields. The league’s 230 players and support staff will be housed either in complex dormitories or at a hotel.
All matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium, except for the semifinals and final, which will be played on the Royals’ home field at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The players and staff will be subject to a rigorous testing and safety protocol.
The NWSL players’ association secured salary and insurance guarantees for all league players for the season during the negotiations over the tournament. U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women’s national team players’ association were also involved in discussions.
All players have been given the opportunity to opt out of the tournament without losing pay if they have concerns about the coronavirus. Rosters are not due until June 21.