NWSL Season Preview 2024: What is the Challenge Cup?

This year, the NWSL's Challenge Cup looks a little bit different from what we've seen in the past. What's changed this year?

NJ/NY Gotham City FC v OL Reign
NJ/NY Gotham City FC v OL Reign / Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Yesterday marked a month until the kick-off of this year's iteration of the NWSL's Challenge Cup, so it only seems fitting to walk through what exactly is on the horizon.

The NWSL's Challenge Cup has seen multiple evolutions. Since its introduction in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the league's largest alteration to the competition. Jessica Berman and the NWSL have shifted to an "FA Community Shield-style" Challenge Cup instead of the "Conti-Cup-style" that has run either in the pre-season or in last season's case, concurrently with the regular season.

The move is understandable due to the two expansion clubs adding four matches to each team's schedules. Eliminating the four group stages matches assists in decreasing fatigue, excess travel, and allows managers to put full priority on the league table. To replace some of the in-season tourney action we saw last season, the league is set to introduce a competition during the Paris Olympics featuring all 14 NWSL teams and some international clubs on the weekend of July 19.

What is the NWSL Challenge Cup?

Every club has had the chance to hoist the Challenge Cup since it was brought into the picture in 2020. North Carolina Courage has frankly owned it, taking home the goods in the last two seasons behind the leadership of Sean Nahas. That won't be the case anymore.

Now, the clubs with the most success from the previous year receive the award of fighting for even more silverware. Though, we won't get a chance to see an entertaining cup run like Racing Louisville FC had last season, this is a chance to set the tone with two of the league's best from the get-go. League commissioner Berman agrees.

“There is no more compelling way to open a new season than with a match featuring the league’s most exceptional athletes who are a true testament to the caliber of athleticism, skill, and excellence the NWSL proudly embodies,” said Berman. “Showcasing both the reigning champions and Shield winners, the Challenge Cup is a fitting launchpad for the world’s premier women’s professional league to kick off what is sure to be the most exciting season of matches yet.”

Casey Stoney and the 2023 NWSL Shield Winners San Diego Wave FC vs. the underdog turned juggernaut 2023 NWSL Champions NJ/NY Gotham FC. Arguably the two biggest winners of the offseason clash in a rare meaningful 90-minute match in March.

Gotham once featured in a Challenge Cup final back in 2021, though in a completely different format. A Carli Lloyd second-half equalizer allowed the East Coast outfit to force penalties against Portland Thorns FC. Nahomi Kawasumi's miss opened the door for Morgan Weaver and Portland who sealed the deal for the Thorns on the 14th kick of the shootout. Midge Purce, a likely starter in the final this year was deployed on the right flank in that match. She acted as one of Gotham's most dangerous players in her 72 minutes between the lines.

What is an interesting note is that over in England in the men's "FA Community Shield", essentially what this year's Challenge Cup is based on, the winners of the previous year's cup competition have won nine out of the last 10 Shields. Manchester City back in 2018 was the only Premier League-winning side to lift this piece of silverware since 2013. Does this mean anything for what we'll see in mid-March? Probably not, but it is something to keep in mind.

When is the 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup match?

Back on December 7, the league announced the 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup details along with the season's footprint. The meeting between Gotham FC and San Diego Wave FC is set for March 15, the day before the regular season begins at Kansas City's new ground-breaking CPKC Stadium.

The action is set to kick off at 8:00 p.m. EST at the home of Juan Carlos Amorós' side. It will be streamed live on Amazon Prime Video, the first of 27 total matches that will be on that platform throughout the 2024 calendar year.

What better way to kick off the new campaign than watching two of the league's elite face off for some silverware? Tickets to the 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup at Red Bull Arena can be found via this link.