HERRIMAN — As the National Women’s Soccer League readies to become the first professional league in the United States to resume play since March when the NWSL Challenge Cup begins Saturday in Herriman, it hit a major snag Monday afternoon.
The Orlando Pride announced their withdrawal from the tournament altogether because of positive coronavirus tests among players and staff. The NWSL said in an announcement that six players and four staff members within the club had tested positive for the virus.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement that the tournament will still proceed, although a new schedule will have to be created since there will be eight teams competing instead of nine. The original plan was to have a preliminary round in which all nine teams would play four games and one would get eliminated before knockout rounds began.
The Pride were one of four teams set to play on the opening day of the tournament Saturday when they would have squared off against the Chicago Red Stars.
“The health and safety of our players and staff is our No. 1 priority and our thoughts are with those players and staff fighting this infection, as well as the entire club in Orlando that have been impacted as a result,” Baird said in her statement. “We’re all obviously disappointed, but in the current environment, this is a situation that we have prepared for and we will now adjust our plans and schedules to reflect the circumstances.”
Dr. Daryl Osbahr, the Pride’s team doctor and a key figure in the NWSL’s medical task force that helped organize the tournament, said in a statement that, “The decision goes far beyond just the positives, but also taking into consideration roommates or partners” and that the logistics of it make it “impossible for the club to participate in the Challenge Cup in Utah.”
All teams except host Utah Royals FC will be staying in a “village” of sorts in a few different locations to help control spread of the coronavirus. URFC players will stay in their regular team-provided housing for the tournament, which is set to conclude July 26.
On Monday morning, the league announced roster and competition rules for the tournament, including the decision that there will be no extra time played in any game, and that in the knockout round, teams will go straight to penalty kicks to decide a winner if a game is tied at the end of regulation.
The league had planned on releasing final team rosters for the tournament Monday before the Pride’s announcement came.
The NBA and MLS have made plans to resume their seasons at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.