If you’re new to NWSL, you might be wondering what the heck the Challenge Cup is. Simply put, it’s a tournament that starts before the regular season, but as NWSL fans already know, it’s not that simple.The six-game tournament began in March, and the semifinals will be played on Wednesday … a full five days after the regular season starts. So yes, whoever reaches the championship game will need one of their regular season games rescheduled.

What does winning the Challenge Cup get you?

Money! Each player will earn $10,000. The games don’t count for anything in the regular or postseason though, leading most teams to treat the contests as preseason tuneup games. It’s especially useful for the new expansion clubs.

Who’s been good this season?

In its third iteration, OL Reign (4-0-2), the North Carolina Courage (3-0-3), Kansas City Current (4-1-1) and Washington Spirit (2-0-4) round out the semifinals. The Courage play the Current and the Spirit play OL Reign on Wednesday.

Who’s been not-so-good this season?

The Orlando Pride, whose team looks wildly different from a year ago, have struggled mightily, finishing without a win (0-4-2). San Diego and Angel City have only earned one win each, too.

Does the Challenge Cup indicate how good or bad a team will be in the regular season?

Is there some deeper purpose to these games? In 2021, the Portland Thorns won the Challenge Cup and the NWSL Shield (given to the team with the best regular season record). Runner-up winner NJ/NY Gotham FC placed just fifth. Neither club advanced past the playoff semis. 

While it’d be foolish to completely ignore everything that’s happened in this year’s Challenge Cup, the wins here don’t necessarily translate.

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