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The 2022 NWSL schedule, explained

They’ve been playing games, so why is this week the season opener?

NWSL: Portland Thorns FC at Angel City FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

All of the 12 NWSL teams have played six games, and now, it’s time for the regular season to start this week! Say what?

If you’re confused, let’s go through the rather unusual scheduling in the league ahead of the officially official season starting.

So what were those first six games?

They were the NWSL Challenge Cup group stage, which is a league cup that has been scheduled prior to the regular season the last two years. As a result, the teams have effectively used it as a preseason tune-up for the regular season.

Then the Challenge Cup doesn’t count?

No, I didn’t say that. The games don’t count in the regular season, and to be fair, lumping the whole competition before the regular season instead of seeding it throughout the regular season campaign adds to the perception that it’s not “real,” as has coaches openly admitting they’re treating it as a preseason.

However, there’s real financial incentive to win, as the players on the team that wins the competition are supposed to each get a $10,000 bonus. That’s real money! It would enrich a player’s pay as much as a third of their regular salary.

But it’s clear that a few teams go for the Challenge Cup, others play a few games and see what happens, and others just want to get some games played. Obviously, it was the latter situation for the expansion teams this year, and even if neither Angel City FC or San Diego Wave FC advanced to the Challenge Cup knockouts, getting six games under their belts will unquestionably help them gear up for the regular season and may theoretically help them avoid some of the worst lows of an expansion season. Time will tell.

So who won the Challenge Cup?

Actually, we haven’t seen the knockouts played yet.

When do those happen?

The semifinals are next week midweek, and then the final will be a week from Saturday, May 7.

And the regular season starts when?

This weekend! Angel City hosts the North Carolina Courage in the curtain-raiser on Friday.

So the league will take a break next week for the knockouts?

Nope!

Wait, what?

No regular season games have been shifted as of yet, with two semifinalists scheduled to play a regular season game on May 7 and the other two on May 8. Obviously the teams in the Challenge Cup final will need to reschedule their games, but I guess we’re just going to ride lightning to find out when this happens. At least the California teams won’t be directly impacted in the rescheduling (I think) since they aren’t scheduled to play any semifinalists that weekend.

OK, I think I got all that. So what’s the regular season looking like?

Yes, the reason we’re here. Instead of regional groups in the Challenge Cup, the teams will now venture out and play all the other teams, on a tidy home-and-away regular season slate. A balanced schedule in the regular season!

Will the places I can watch the regular season be different than the Challenge Cup?

No! They’ll be mostly streamed on Paramount+ or Twitch, with a smattering of broadcasts on CBS Sports Network and maybe even CBS along the way. That’s the good news (if you have a subscription for Paramount+ and/or access to CBSSN) but because the league released their regular season schedule so late, it appears there’s going to be far fewer games on TV, especially the super-fun national over-the-air broadcasts on CBS, the ones your parents or grandparents could stumble over on a Saturday afternoon. That’s a bummer, honestly, because the NWSL is outdrawing MLS on the big network and it would be nice to see that momentum continue. Alas.

Should I go to a game if I haven’t been yet?

What kind of question is that? Of course you should. If you have the money and are within range of an NWSL team, check it out!

What do you think? Leave a comment below.