How will the Challenge Cup be affected with players gone for international duty?
FIFA has a scheduled international window from April 5th to April 13th, with the Challenge Cup Kicking off on April 9th. Therefore, USWNT and other international players called into camp will not play in at least the first 2 of 5 match rounds and will be available for squad selection at the earliest the April 20th match date. Between teams only playing 4 of 5 match rounds and customary fatigue from global travel, fans should expect to see international players only once or twice before the Challenge Cup finals.
While this news may disappoint fans, top to bottom of the table squad depth and parity is where the NWSL shines. While it has flaws, the allocation system ensures that the USWNT players are spread throughout the league and no single team loses all its players for international duty. Valuable opportunities are available in these moments for talented young players across the league.
For example, Megan Rapinoe’s absence at OL Reign will open the door for promising attackers Tziarra King and Leah Pruitt to get more minutes. In turn, these players get better and continue to push Megan Rapinoe to get better when she returns. There is always a talented prospect battling for Megan Rapinoe’s spot. This cycle of competition is what has shaped the USWNT into the powerhouse fans see today and has elevated to new heights the careers of many other domestic and international players.
The level of play is more likely to be affected by the 2021 Challenge Cup being the first match for teams since the Fall Series six months ago than missing national team players. Expect teams that rely on international players such as the Thorns to start slower than expected but still maintain a high level of play due to quality depth pieces.
by Tim Antoniewicz