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No Christen Press for Utah Royals FC in NWSL Challenge Cup; locals dot other rosters

Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) just misses a shot on goal as Utah Royal and the Seattle Reign play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8), shown here in 2018, will be a part of the team’s roster for the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup, set to begin on Saturday in Herriman. Notably absent for the Royals is forward Christen Press, while fellow national team member, defender Kelley O’Hara, will play for Utah.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — Final rosters for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup, which is set to begin Saturday in Herriman, started rolling in on Tuesday morning.

The biggest headline locally was confirmation that Utah Royals FC forward Christen Press, a key piece of the United States Women’s National Team, will indeed not play as had been previously reported (players will not be financially harmed if they choose not to play).

“It is deeply painful not to be able to play the game I love, and to watch the broader effects of the global pandemic on our league, sports and our world,” Press said in a statement. “Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this tournament.

“I know how fortunate I am to be able to make this choice. I have enormous respect and gratitude for those who do not have the luxury to choose whether to report to work, including our selfless and heroic first responders. I look forward to supporting my teammates during the tournament in Utah.”

URFC general manager Stephanie Lee said in a statement that, “We will miss Christen’s presence at the tournament both on and off the field. Regardless, we respect her decision.”

Press and her close friends Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath are the only USWNT players to opt out. Carli Lloyd and Mal Pugh won’t because of injury, and Alex Morgan is still recovering after giving birth to her first child in the spring. Morgan’s Orlando Pride teammates Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Emily Sonnett won’t after the Pride withdrew from the tournament Monday because numerous players and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

Press’ absence is a big hit to a front line that will include team captain Amy Rodriguez and a bunch of players who are unproven for one reason or another. Taylor Lytle and Brittany Ratcliffe both missed all of the 2019 season because of injury, first-round pick Tziarra King, Arielle Ship and former Skyline High and University of Utah standout Holly Daugirda are unknown, and Raisa Strom-Okimoto has been a seldom-used player.

Although Press won’t play, URFC’s other national team stalwart, defender Kelley O’Hara, will after two injury-plagued seasons in 2018 and 2019. She’ll be joined on the back line by returnees Rachel Corsie, Katie Bowen, Gaby Vincent, Mallory Weber (who can also play up front), Michelle Maemone and Maddie Nolf, who missed her rookie year in 2019 because of injury.

Also on the back line will be newcomers Elizabeth Ball, acquired in the offseason in exchange for national team leader Becky Sauerbrunn, Taylor Leach and Marissa Sheva. In goal will again be Nicole Barnhart, Abby Smith and Melissa Lowder.

In the midfield, returnees Vero Boquete, Desiree Scott, Lo’eau LaBonta, Gunny Jonsdottir and Diana Matheson, who missed 2019 because of injury, as well as newcomers Chestley Strother, Aminata Diallo and draft pick Kate Del Fava will all suit up.

The most interesting player in that midfield group is Diallo, whom URFC signed the day the sports world came to a halt when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. She has stayed in her native France during the pandemic and has not yet arrived in Utah.

In other roster-related news, two players who compete in France, whom URFC was reported to have interest in signing, Dzsenifer Marozsan and Sarah Bouhaddi, re-signed with Olympique Lyonnais on Monday.

Marozsan is widely considered one of the best players in the world.

Elsewhere in the NWSL, a few players with local connections will compete for other teams in the Challenge Cup. Former Alta High School star Kealia Watt and former BYU standout Michele Vasconcelos will play for the Chicago Red Stars, former BYU star Ashley Hatch plays for the Washington Spirit, Utah native Darian Jenkins and former University of Utah star Carly Nelson are on OL Reign, and former URFC players Katie Stengel and Maegan Kelly are on the Houston Dash.

After the Pride withdrew from the tournament Monday, the NWSL had to reconfigure the schedule. URFC will open play June 30 against the Dash, then play Sky Blue FC on July 4, OL Reign on July 8 and the Red Stars on July 12 to finish the preliminary round. The first game of the tournament will be at 10:30 a.m. MT on Saturday between NC Courage and Portland Thorns FC as originally scheduled.

Before the Pride withdrew, the nine-team field was going to be reduced to eight after the preliminary round, and then the remaining sides were going to compete in a knockout-style tournament starting with the quarterfinals. Now, eight teams will compete before the quarterfinals, which will be played July 17.

All games through the quarterfinals will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, and the semifinals and final will be at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.

The first game of the tournament and the final will air on CBS. The full tournament will be streamed live on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Canada and will re-air on CBS Sports Network. Fans outside the U.S. and Canada can stream the full tournament on Twitch.