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Five dates to circle on the 2019 NWSL schedule

Photo Copyright Lindsay Trapnell for The Equalizer

At long last, the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League schedule is out. Here are five dates to circle as you full our your summer social calendar.

April 13: Chicago Red Stars at North Carolina Courage

For the second year in a row, the NWSL has come through by giving us the consensus top match for opening day. Last year, it was a championship rematch between the North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns. This year, it is a Chicago Red Stars visit to North Carolina, something that was supposed to happen in the playoffs last year only for the match to be played in Portland thanks to Hurricane Florence. This will also be the start of the Courage defending the best season ever seen in North American professional soccer and the Red Stars’ pursuit of an elusive title after four straight years bowing out in the semifinals.

This would have been a great national television opener, but…

READ MORE: NWSL, A+E Networks end partnership. Now what?

June 2: Chicago Red Stars at Portland Thorns FC

The Thorns will open with six consecutive matches away from Portland before debuting against the Red Stars in the new and improved Providence Park. That means that, starting here ,the Thorns will play 12 of 18 games at home.

Unlike the Timbers — who will kick things off a day earlier — the Thorns do not sell out every match, so things should be fairly status quo. But if they do sell out a match, something they have done every season since 2015, they will break the Orlando Pride’s single-game attendance record from 2016.

July 12: Utah Royals FC at Sky Blue FC

The World Cup ends July 7 and this will be the first league match after that. Not exactly inspiring considering that Sky Blue finished last in the league in points and attendance in 2018. It may also be too soon for players who participated in the final or third-place match to get back and on the field.

But once the World Cup is over, the NWSL will be left to fend for itself. And if you recall, the last time the Royals went to Sky Blue, they stole a last-minute draw that drew the ire of Sky Blue players and coaches due to the amount of stoppage time added.

August 7: Portland Thorns FC at Reign FC

The league’s top rivalry heads to Tacoma for the first time. The Reign moved there last month and dropped Seattle from their official name. It will be a bit odd not to be able to officially call this Portland-Seattle, especially because the rivalry came in hot in 2013 thanks in large part to the extraordinary rivalry of the cities’ men’s clubs.

But the clubs have enough history built up over six years that the small change should be of little consequence. That history includes last fall’s semifinal in Portland, won by the Thorns. This is a Wednesday match, and marquee match-ups on Wednesday can be attendance boosters.

August 24: Orlando Pride at Washington Spirit, Audi Field (TBA)

The Spirit return to Audi Field for a second straight season for a match at the new home of D.C. United. Last year’s match drew an energetic crowd of 7,976 and that was with the Spirit mired in a brutal slump. It will be interesting to see how many they can attract if the team is playing better, combined with the match being positioned after the World Cup plus the presence of Alex Morgan. August 24 and September 14 matches are officially still listed as “TBA” on the Spirit’s schedule (with the club also noting that they will not be played at the Maryland SoccerPlex), so there could be another Audi Field game added.

Other news and notes

— There are 12 Wednesday night matches over eight Wednesdays and never more than two on the same night. The killer will be August 7, when both matches start at 10:00 p.m. EDT (one of Thorns-Reign)

— The only other midweek match is a Memorial Day afternoon game in Tacoma between the Reign and Courage

— The first Reign-Thorns match is July 5 in Portland. Barring an early exit from the World Cup for the U.S. that will be a marquee match minus several marquee players

— The Reign’s first match at Cheney Stadium is Easter night against the Pride. That’s a pretty big oof.

— The weekends of June 8-9 and Oct. 5-6 are completely dark for FIFA windows. But there is a single match on Saturday, August 31, between the Spirit and Pride in Orlando.

— The Red Stars are the odd team out on the final weekend, meaning they could have as many as 22 days between their final regular-season match on Sept. 28 and the Sunday of the playoff weekend, Oct. 20.

— Toyota Park has been renamed SeatGeek Stadium.

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