After the runaway success of the Challenge Cup, the NWSL is continuing to innovate for pandemic-conscious sports with its 2020 fall series. The league will return to play on September 5th in a limited, seven-week series of games to be played in three, three-team pods in different locations around the country.
There will be a total of 18 games played, with each team playing four matches within their pod. In a time where opportunities to play are few and uncertain, the league was determined to give the athletes another chance to get on the field this year. Regardless of the unconventional format, the fact that the NWSL has a season at all feels like a huge victory for the players and the league.
Like the Challenge Cup, the foremost goal of this series will be the safety of players and staff as Covid-19 continues to sweep the country. Teams will play only against the other clubs in their designated pod, which will both limit player-to-player contact and reduce the need for risky travel between markets. The health and safety protocols developed for the Challenge Cup will also be in effect for this new series, and the league seems confident that these tested methods will allow for a safe, abbreviated season.
WOMEN’S SOCCER IN THE MAINSTREAM
The 2020 Challenge Cup further proved that fans will watch women’s soccer when it’s made available to them, with a record-breaking 653,000 viewers tuning in for the final match on CBS. After that success, CBS has upped its coverage for the fall series. There will be an NWSL Game of the Week on CBS every Saturday in September, and CBS Sports Network will carry those matches in October. Other matches will be available on CBS All Access or Twitch, and Twitch will carry all the games for international fans. The NWSL has been pushing to gain this kind of national audience, and a successful fall series could really cement the need for even more media play for women’s sports in future seasons.
She Plays will also be putting in the work to bring in more engaged soccer fans during the fall series by providing a full state of NWSL fantasy games. Offerings will include a roster game, team stats games, classic pick ’em and more, with the hope of topping the engagement She Plays brought to the league with our Challenge Cup games. A full rundown of how to play fantasy for the NWSL fall series will be available later this week.
SHIFTING DYNAMICS AS PLAYERS HOP THE POND
The weeks following the Challenge Cup have been marked by an increasing number of big-name players leaving to play in Europe this season. Some players chose to take advantage of the chance to play a more typical season overseas rather than wait on an uncertain one stateside, which is certainly an understandable route to choose given the circumstances. With the length of these players’ absences unknown and the fate of sports in the US still precarious due to the pandemic, teams will have to make some adjustments.
This could prove a blessing in disguise for some NWSL clubs, especially those who are looking to build a new team identity after roster changes. With some crucial players not available, this fall series could be a unique opportunity for some lesser-known players to rise to the top. With stakes a bit lower than in a typical season and a limited pool of competition for each club, we might see coaches willing to take some risks and try new things this fall. Perhaps the difficult circumstances of the pandemic and the loss of a normal season will lead to innovation within the participating teams. We might get to watch some players who normally don’t get the spotlight step up, take chances, and lead, and that possibility alone makes this fall series well worth watching.