NWSL Challenge Cup Calls For Change


(Photo Courtesy Pixababy)

Ashley Henderson, Editor-In-Chief

Players and fans want the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Challenge Cup’s format to stay in the past. After the 2022 tournament ended on May 7 with NC Courage’s 2-1 victory over The Washington Spirit. The hard-fought game including multiple injuries, and missed calls, ignited a movement for change.

The NWSL should put its players first by changing the format of next season’s Challenge Cup in 2023.

The changes to the Challenge Cup’s poor scheduling are critical. Both The Washington Spirit and The North Carolina Courage were forced to play three games in seven days. This caused athletes to face fatigue and struggle to perform at the best level. This schedule prevented the ultimate competitive game that both teams and fans wanted. The final championship also took place as teams prepared for regular-season openers, which led Spirit to postpone their first game. This will interfere with teams such as how the Spirit will now play Seattle three times in one month without meeting again for the rest of the regular season. Also, the league’s disorganization led to difficulty scheduling each game’s location as the OL Reign were required to travel to Washington D.C for the semifinals instead of Seattle. Teams should receive home-field advantage for winning and be given a less draining schedule. The tournament did maintain the survival of the league in 2020 and benefited teams during the introduction of vaccines in 2021. However, after two years, teams are entering a more normal routine. Not only should the schedule be changed to represent this progression, but it should also benefit the well-being of players.

Players’ health is at risk with the current tournament format. Not only does the fatigue affect their performance, but the grueling schedules take a major toll on their physical and mental health. Playing and training for a busy game schedule causes players’ bodies to become run down, which challenges their mental state. Many players also suffered injuries after referees did not address dangerous plays. The league must invest in better referees to ensure that players are protected from possible career-ending plays. While some say the league maintains accountability such as their recent fine to Spirit forward Ashley Hatch for unsportsmanlike conduct using studs to the chest, direct action should be taken by game officials on the field.  This can only occur if the league places priority on providing experienced referees for each game.

Although some claim the Challenge Cup is still successful, the format forces players into an unrealistic and unhealthy environment. As the Challenge Cup set a new record for viewers, the league’s revenue has increased. By keeping the current format, the league shows disregard for the teams and the game itself. The tournament is no longer about preseason competition, but an influx of money. If the league does not take action, there will be no teams for the cup to even make money.

The financial benefits of the current Challenge Cup format should not be placed above players’ well-being. After years of controversy, the NWSL must provide a better-organized tournament for players. The current format will keep players at risk and continue to impact regular-season games. To support the changes to the NWSL Challenge Cup, spread the message on social media or contact league administrators.