NWSL Challenge Cup: Bracket set for playoff round

OL Reign Sofia Huerta fends off San Diego's Tayler Hansen during the Challenge Cup group stage. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The NWSL Challenge Cup playoffs are set, with the league releasing the official bracket Monday.

No. 1 seed OL Reign will take on the No. 4 seed Washington Spirit, while the No. 2 seed Kansas City Current will face off against the No. 3 seed North Carolina Courage, with both matches set for May 4.

Due to a scheduling conflict, the top-seeded OL Reign will go on the road to face the Spirit at Segra Field in Leesburg, Va. OL Reign was awarded home-field advantage, but the Seattle Sounders are using Lumen Field on the same date as the Challenge Cup semifinal, which left OL Reign without a venue.

The match between the Spirit and OL Reign will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and will air on CBS Sports Network.

The Current and the Courage will play at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the match to be streamed live on Paramount+.

The winners will advance to the Challenge Cup final on Saturday, May 7. The NWSL did not specify a start time for the final in their latest news release. The league initially set the championship game for 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, and that time remains on the league’s official schedule.

OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer has been outspoken about the early start time for the final, making her thoughts known Thursday via Twitter.

“If you really cared about women’s sports you would actually put us at prime time,” Balcer tweeted at the NWSL and at CBS, which will televise the championship. “Thanks in advance!”

According to the club, should OL Reign win its semifinal match, the Challenge Cup title game will be played at Lumen Field.

Adding to the scheduling woes surrounding the preseason tournament, the Week 2 regular-season games for the Challenge Cup finalists will need to be rescheduled.

Balcer also criticized the overlap between the Challenge Cup and the regular season on her social media account.

“Where is the COMMON SENSE,” Balcer tweeted. “Now your reward for making the Challenge Cup final is having to play three games in seven days… I cannot sit idly by as the well being of the player’s is put in jeopardy by bogus kickoff times and high physical demand. Let’s be better.”

The NWSL faced a similar line of criticism last year, with players protesting the league championship’s 9 a.m. PT kickoff at Providence Park. The game was eventually moved to Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, with a noon start time.