By Josh Furlong, KSL.com -- Professional soccer is returning to Utah.
The National Women’s Soccer League announced Wednesday that the state will host the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, a 25-game tournament at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman. The tournament’s semifinal matchups and final will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The tournament will begin on June 27, though no fans will be permitted to be in attendance for the games. Each game, however, will be broadcast on CBS All Access, and the opening game and the championship game will be broadcast on CBS. Fans outside the U.S. and Canada can also stream the tournament on Twitch.
“This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement.
The tournament will bring players from all nine NWSL teams to the state to live in hotels in the Salt Lake City area, or an “NWSL Village,” and to train at the Zions Bank Training Center in Herriman and America First Credit Union Field in Sandy. Players will be tested for COVID-19 before traveling to Utah and will continue to be monitored during their stay in the state.
“With the efforts of our frontline workers, our state’s early adoption of preventative measures, and our facilities at Zions Bank Real Academy, Rio Tinto Stadium and America First Credit Union Field, Utah is uniquely prepared to host the nine teams in the NWSL and put on a tremendous tournament,” Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen said in a statement. “With the full support of the governor and the medical experts in our community, we are thrilled to bring the tournament to Utah.”
In the last month, Utah has transitioned from a high risk to a low risk phase and has opened up much of the economy due to a large number of COVID-19 tests available for its residents.
“Utah is home to strong health care systems and dedicated medical professionals — and public health and safety are always a top priority for our communities,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “Because of those factors, I believe our state will be a great location for the National Women’s Soccer League to host its competition in 2020.”
Each club will play four games in a preliminary round of the international-style tournament to determine seeding. The top eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals for a knockout competition, with the championship game being played on July 26. The rest of the tournament schedule will be released “in the days to come,” according to the league.
The tournament will be the first NWSL competition since the season concluded in 2019 with the North Carolina Courage claiming the championship.
“We’re really excited. It’s obviously an NWSL tournament, but it’s being hosted here in Utah. It’s a chance for our club to show off. It’s a super club — with the facilities, with the infrastructure, with the quality of people we have behind the scenes and also working on the day-to-day soccer operations level,” Utah Royals FC head coach Craig Harrington said in a statement.
“We’ve been fortunate within the state that we’ve been less hit than other places have. We’re really excited to welcome everybody and be able to host all these world-class players coming into the market and put on games that hopefully the rest of the world will get some enjoyment from.”
The league's players association said it has been working toward a "safe, player-prioritized return-to-play in 2020" and will support a return to play in the tournament following a collaborative partnership with the NWSL.
"We are proud to move forward supporting this tournament and the NWSL," co-directors Brooke Elby and Yael Averbuch said in a statement. "We are appreciative of the extensive planning that has been done by the NWSL and the NWSL Medical Task Force, in collaboration with our association, in order to protect our players while offering an exciting 2020 competition model.
"We will continue to work closely with the NWSL to ensure that player health and safety remains a paramount priority."
On Monday, the NWSL announced teams could begin training in small groups under the direction of their respective team medical staff and in accordance with their local government guidelines. The plan, which was referred to as “Phase Two” of the league’s return-to-play protocol, includes a daily symptom check and temperature screenings prior to entering a team’s training facility.