05/27 18:11 CDT NWSL returning to play with summertime tournament in Utah
NWSL returning to play with summertime tournament in Utah
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Pro soccer returns to the U.S. next month when the National Women's Soccer
League starts a 25-game tournament in a pair of stadiums in Utah that will be
kept clear of fans to protect players from the coronavirus.
Players from the league's nine teams will train and live at two Salt Lake
City-area hotels, the league announced Wednesday. All players will be tested
for COVID-19 before leaving for Utah, and then will be regularly screened
during their monthlong stay.
No fans will be allowed into the Zions Bank or Rio Tinto stadiums, two suburban
Salt Lake City venues that will host the action.
The tournament begins June 27, with games to be televised and streamed by CBS
and its online and broadcast affiliates. It's a boon for a league that was
looking for a new TV partner in the wake of the U.S. women's victory in the
World Cup last year and now finds itself on the front end of American leagues
returning and offering live sports amid the coronavirus pandemic.
League Commissioner Lisa Baird said player safety was a priority.
"We've been guided, not necessarily by being first, but by being safe," Baird
said. "Our mantra all the way through has been, ?Is our medical protocol
complete enough and thorough enough?'"
Not all players may be on board. The U.S. Women's National Team Players
Association confirmed players can opt out of the tournament and said it "will
provide support to each player in whatever decision she makes."
U.S. Soccer also said participation is optional. It was not immediately known
whether any players from the national team would opt out.
Rosters for the league's nine teams will be announced on June 21, Baird said.
Utah Royals forward Amy Rodriguez said players have been apprised of the
"I am well aware that there are a lot of concerns in this," she said. "And
please, do not get me wrong when I say that I am excited for the tournament, in
a sense of being naive or maybe not having those concerns. I definitely do
think that there are a lot of things that have to be in place for this to be a
successful, safe, healthy tournament for our nine NWSL teams and staff. I think
that our players' association, our board of directors, the medical staff,
everyone has really taken all those things into consideration."
The league was supposed to begin the season on April 18. The NWSL players'
union agreed to the terms of the return, which will include four games of pool
play for each team, followed by an eight-team, single-elimination tournament
that will conclude July 26.
The union secured guaranteed contracts for this year and insurance for all
players, whether they choose to play or not. The union also made sure players
with children were accommodated. Mothers will be allowed to bring their
children and a caregiver to Utah.
Emily Menges, who plays for the Portland Thorns, said she believes the league
has done a good job of addressing player concerns.
"This is really the most impressed I've ever been with this league, on all of
the steps that they've taken. They've gone through every single possible
situation and every caution," she said. "They've given all the players a chance
to answer every single question that we have."
The major men's soccer league in the U.S. and Canada, MLS, has resumed limited
training in the hopes of restarting this summer. The German Bundesliga resumed
play in empty stadiums this month after a two-month hiatus; other major leagues
in Europe, including the Premier League, are trying to figure out the logistics
of getting back to play.
Baird said she believes the NWSL's size gave it an advantage over other leagues
and sports: "I think the secret is we've been small and nimble and agile."
The NWSL's testing guidelines for the tournament include individual testing
upon arrival in Utah and testing within 24 to 48 hours of each game. The
league's insurer will cover the testing.
The league put together a task force of 15 physicians to develop its return to
play protocol. Earlier this week, teams were allowed to start small group
It was unclear whether additional NWSL games would be scheduled beyond the
tournament. Sky Blue general manager Alyse LaHue said in a letter to supporters
Wednesday that play in the fall has not been ruled out.
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.
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