The National Women’s Soccer League standings are as close as they’ve ever been with a mere six points separating the top eight teams. Despite this neck-and-neck intensity in the regular season, most of the league will now go on a two-week break while the season-long Challenge Cup tournament finishes up its run with the semifinals on Wednesday and the final on Saturday.
The Challenge Cup is a bit of an odd tournament. It’s all the same NWSL teams as the regular season, the only difference is they’re broken up into three divisions of four teams who play each other intra-divisionally in a group stage to determine who makes the playoffs. In addition to the top team from each division, the team with the next highest points advances. This group stage period ran primarily through the Women’s World Cup and, ultimately, OL Reign advanced from the west, the Kansas City Current advanced from the central division, and the North Carolina Courage advanced from the east. Racing Louisville also snuck in from the central division as the second-place team with the most points.
Because it’s all the same teams, there are some questions about the purpose of the tournament and what value it brings besides the chance of another trophy and a sizeable bonus for the teams that advance. The league clearly has similar questions because The Equalizer’s Jeff Kassouf recently reported that this will be the last year for the Challenge Cup.
So it’s fair to ask, what value does the Challenge Cup bring for each of the four teams who’ve made it to the semifinals? As professional athletes, of course, they want to win every single game they play. But with every team scrambling to grab as many points as they can in the final four games of the regular season, will the Challenge Cup be viewed as a tournament to go all in for? Or will it remain more of a sideshow to the main event?
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