OL Reign will start its 2021 season April 16 with a NWSL Challenge Cup match at Cheney Stadium, the league announced Tuesday.
The Bold will face the Houston Dash in the game. The visitors won the Challenge Cup title last summer as the league became the first professional sports league in the U.S. to welcome back competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are a few changes to the second edition of the event. Instead of sequestering all of the teams and staff in Utah, the NWSL split its now 10-team league into East and West divisions. Each will play a four-match schedule in their home markets and the winner of each division will play each other for the championship May 8 on CBS. The title match site will be determined by the NWSL at a later date.
The Reign’s schedule continues with the Cascadia derby against the Portland Thorns FC on the road April 21. The Bold’s third match is at Cheney Stadium against the Chicago Red Stars (April 27) and the slate concludes on the road against Kansas City (May 2).
“We are very excited to return to the pitch and are ready for this challenge,” OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti said in a news release. “It will be a very difficult tournament, as our division has some incredible teams. I know the history of our games with Portland which are always special, and we have great respect for our other opponents in the division — especially the champions and finalist from last year’s Challenge Cup. It will be a good test for our squad and we will continue working hard to be at our best for the tournament.”
The Reign could also feature a significant difference from when it participated in the Challenge Cup last season, losing in the quarterfinals. Striker Megan Rapinoe opted out of the 2020 event for personal reasons but could participate this year. The reigning FIFA Women’s Player of the Year is currently training with the club in Tacoma.
Rapinoe playing hinges on medical safety protocol. The U.S. women’s national team announced Tuesday it is playing a match against Sweden in Stockholm on April 10 and Rapinoe is expected to be called up to play.
The NWSL Medical Task Force set a seven-day quarantine period for players and international travel but a source close to discussions said any potential conflicts with the FIFA break (April 5-13) and medical clearance for Challenge Cup competitions is being evaluated in regards to all players.
The Reign is expecting its full roster to be available for selection for the match against Portland.
The Challenge Cup kicks off April 9 with a rematch of the final last year between Houston and Chicago at the Dash’s BBVA Stadium. It will air on CBS Sports Network.
NWSL will open a traditional regular season May 15 and will not take a hiatus for the Tokyo Olympic Games. The league’s postseason will end with a championship game Nov. 20.