Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams want NWSL to change Challenge Cup schedule

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The NWSL and national teams have long had a complex relationship, sometimes symbiotic and sometimes at odds, with players having to balance playing for both club and country.

Now, international players are calling on the league to amend the 2022 schedule to honor FIFA windows and improve the NWSL calendar.

Snacks host Lynn Williams recently stopped by The Athletic’s Full Time with Meg Linehan podcast to discuss the Challenge Cup with the Houston Dash’s Rachel Daly and Orlando Pride’s Alex Morgan.

Williams tells Snacks co-host Sam Mewis that the trio talked about how “the NWSL continues to play through FIFA windows and how hard it is for internationals to feel sometimes a part of the NWSL as well a part of the National Team and being pulled in two different directions.”

Williams admits that splitting time between a club and national team can create interesting dynamics in the locker room.

“Sometimes the club team, you get this bad reputation of like, ‘you don’t want to be here, you are always with your National Team.’ In reality you do, it’s just so hard because they continue to play and you’re just pulled all over the place,” says Williams.

Mewis says she’s also felt divided between representing the USWNT and her NWSL team, the North Carolina Courage.

“I think it’s hard to do both when they conflict. Obviously, you can’t be there 100 percent of the time for your club team even though in the rest of the world the schedules are just made in a way that clubs and the leagues respect the FIFA windows so that international players aren’t missing 25 percent of the games in a season.”

“You always hear coaches say ‘you’ll get your shot when the national team players go away,’” Williams adds. “And I feel like they say that trying to make it a positive, but in reality it’s kind of a negative because it’s like, ‘Oh you only value me when they’re gone’ — so, it’s a very interesting dynamic that is so unique to the NWSL.”

Going forward, Williams and Mewis hope the NWSL will shift the schedule — including moving the NWSL Challenge Cup. Mewis points explicitly to next summer when there is a “big FIFA window” for international qualifying tournaments as a potential place for the NWSL Challenge Cup.

“Doing the Challenge Cup during that window, I feel like, makes so much sense. Instead of having a break or just continuing with games, I think it makes sense to put a different kind of competition in that big window and to kind of get used to doing that in the summers when there are these big tournaments.”

This would mean the Challenge Cup would be without international players. But as someone who has experienced both sides of that playing dynamic, Williams says this could be a change that would benefit all NWSL players.

“I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been where I just played in the NWSL and not with the National Team and then having to do both. And I also think it’s not fair [in terms of the regular season] to the players when all the internationals leave because some teams have more internationals, then you’re trying to figure out formations and player personnel while your players are away.”

Williams adds that placing the Challenge Cup during the Summer could provide players who aren’t typically awarded minutes more time on the pitch while allowing international and club players to get back on the same schedule and avoid missing crucial regular season games.

The Challenge Cup was initially played as a replacement tournament for the 2020 NWSL season, with teams competing within a single bubble. This season, the league moved the Challenge Cup to the beginning of the year and used it as a kick-off tournament. The Houston Dash won last year’s tournament in memorable fashion, while the Portland Thorns won this years, claiming their first trophy in a season that’s been full of them.

Listen to the latest episode of Snacks for more on Williams and Mewis’ thoughts on the NWSL schedule.