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Sport

NWSL plans 2021 regular season, return of Challenge Cup

FILE PHOTO: Jul 26, 2020; Sandy, Utah, USA; Houston Dash forward Shea Groom (6) slips the ball past Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (1) for a second half goal at Rio Tinto Stadium. / Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

(Reuters) - The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will bring back the Challenge Cup before moving forward with a 24-game regular season beginning in May next year, the league said on Wednesday.

Players will report to camp on Feb. 1 for the month-long Challenge Cup, which was introduced in June as the NWSL became the first major North American league to return to action amid the coronavirus outbreak, held in a quarantined setting in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah.

The league said next year’s Challenge Cup, which will kick off in mid-April, will play out in “multiple bubble environments, team markets, or some combination of the two”.

The regular season will culminate in an expanded, six-team playoff and championship game in November, as the league looks to build on the positive momentum in 2020.

“Building on what we were able to safely accomplish in 2020, we’re expanding the opportunities for our athletes and teams to thrive,” Director of Operations and Player Affairs Liz Dalton said in a statement.

Sports leagues across North America are working to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with the National Basketball Association (NBA) announcing plans this month for the 2020-21 season to begin in December.

Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond

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