The National Women’s Soccer League announced Tuesday a fall return to play where its nine teams will combine to play 18 matches over seven weeks. The finalized dates and competition rules are expected to be released next week, but the truncated season will kickoff Sept. 5 and run through Oct. 17.
“Everybody is super happy we were able to get it sorted out,” said Bill Predmore, who’s the CEO and minority owner of OL Reign. “It was a little bit more work than expected between television and dealing with ways to do it safely. But I’m happy we’ll be back, even if only for a few short games.”
NWSL’s clubs were bracketed into three-team pods to play four matches each. OL Reign was grouped with the Portland Thorns FC and Utah Royals FC to minimize travel. Each team will host two home matches and play two away.
The Bold will play their two home games at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma but due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, fans will not be permitted to attend. NWSL rules will allow fans in home markets where government officials don’t have restrictions on crowd sizes.
CBS networks, as part of its new multiyear deal with NWSL, will air one league match every Saturday in September and three Saturdays in October. CBS All Access will also stream four games in September. More details will be announced in terms of how the other matches will be streamed online.
The NWSL held a Challenge Cup in Utah that concluded with the Houston Dash winning the title on July 26. OL Reign lost in the quarterfinals to the Chicago Red Stars.
NWSL’s planned 2020 regular season would’ve kicked off in April. It was initially delayed last spring due to the spread of COVID-19.
Multiple safety protocols were put in place to enable NWSL to hold its summer tournament. The Orlando Pride were unable to participate because of multiple positive cases of COVID-19 found within their club. The remaining eight NWSL teams were sequestered in Utah and tested frequently in order to compete. No positive cases were reported.
Similar measures will be in place in order to hold its fall regular season. For instance, clubs had to have two rounds of negative test results for their players and technical staff in order to resume training this month. OL Reign passed that requirement and began holding traditional training Monday.
“COVID adds a layer of stress and complexity and is an emotional toll on everybody in different ways, so they (players and staff) are dealing with that like everybody else,” Predmore said. “But they want to train and play. That’s what they do and they’re looking for opportunities to do that. As long as they can do it safely, they’re excited to get back at it.”
OL Reign will be without at least eight players due to placing them on loan to overseas teams. Included in that mix are veteran midfielder Jess Fishlock and defender Lu Barnes.
Fishlock joined FA Women’s Super League side Reading FC in England. Her departure was not only to continue her return after a season-ending ACL tear in 2019 but also help her chances in making the English Olympic team.
Barnes, according to Predmore, was loaned to Kristianstads DFF in Sweden because she’s always wanted to play in Europe. New OL Reign signee Nicole Momiki, a highly touted forward, was loaned to Linkopings FC in Sweden. Both will play through the end of the Swedish season.
The roster space will give opportunities for players like defender Madison Hammond, who graduated from Wake Forest in December and didn’t make an appearance in the Challenge Cup for OL Reign. Another new signee, forward Sofia Huerta, was limited during the summer tournament due to injury and could get some needed minutes this fall.
“It’s going to be fantastic for (Hammond) and really gives us a chance to see what she can do in a game environment,” Predmore said. “It will be a good mix of veteran talent with a few younger players to still get some important games in before we wrap it up for the year.”
A typical NWSL season would end with crowning a champion in November. There will not be any matches past October this year.
NOTE: OL Reign acquired midfielder Rose Lavelle in a trade with the Washington Spirit earlier this month. In exchange, Washington received OL Reign’s 2022 first-round draft pick and $100,000 in allocation money. Additional allocation money will be added once Lavelle returns to play in the NWSL. She’s currently playing for Manchester City in England.
Lavelle was key in the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the 2019 World Cup. She started in six matches and scored three goals — including one in the final against the Netherlands. Her performance earned her the Bronze Ball.