Portland’s Tyler Lussi (left, during a September 2020 game) and OL Reign’s Shirley Cruz could meet again when the Cascadia rivals face off April 21 in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup.

Image: Alli Weseman

The National Women’s Soccer League released the schedule this week for the 2021 Challenge Cup, with the Portland Thorns’ first game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 9, at Providence Park against visiting Kansas City. Games will follow with the rest of the tournament’s western division: the Chicago Red Stars, the Seattle-area OL Reign, and the Houston Dash. The top finisher will meet its counterpart from the eastern division (New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit, Orlando Pride, North Carolina Courage, or Racing Louisville) in a matinee final on May 8.

While some teams have announced there will be fans at their Challenge Cup home games, at reduced capacity, there has been no such announcement in Portland. Season ticket holders have been told they’ll get first dibs, in order of seniority, when Providence Park does eventually open to a limited number of fans.

For watching at home, most games will be streamed on Paramount+, a rebranding of CBS All Access. The service is operated by ViacomCBS, which became a league broadcast partner last year (along with Twitch) following time in the wilderness with frustration-filled Fox apps, lesser ESPNs, the Lifetime network (yes, there were sports on the Lifetime), and Yahoo! Sports (let us not speak of it). Some games will be shown on CBS Sports, with the final on CBS (KOIN-6 locally). Twitch will stream games internationally.

Last June, the NWSL was the US’s first team-sport major league to return to play, when the Thorns and Courage—both two-time league champs—faced off on June 27 in the first game of the 2020 Challenge Cup, a bubble tournament in Salt Lake City. The 2021 version will offer a warm-up to the NWSL’s regular season, which kicks off May 15. 

The league isn’t planning a break for the Tokyo Olympics, which will pull national team players away for the run-up (which includes a friendly against Sweden April 10, the Challenge Cup's opening weekend) and the Olympic tournament, which starts July 21 (or late on the night of July 20, Pacific time). Four Thorns are on the current US National Team 23-player roster—Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Sophia Smith—though it will be cut to 18 for the Olympic team.

Portland Thorns in the 2021 Challenge Cup

vs. Kansas City, Providence Park, 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 9, CBS Sports Network

@ Chicago Red Stars, Seat Geek Stadium in Chicago, 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, Paramount+

vs. OL Reign, Providence Park, 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, CBS Sports Network

@ Houston Dash, BBVA Stadium, 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 2, Paramount+

The team at the top of the standings after these games will play the eastern division leader on May 8.

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