The Chicago Red Stars were planning to unveil the roster traveling to Utah for the NWSL Challenge Cup today at 1 p.m. CT. By 2 p.m., with no roster to be found, fans on Twitter started to wonder what was going on.
By 3 p.m., things had gotten ugly. The Red Stars’ first scheduled opponent, the Orlando Pride, announced six players and four staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the club to withdraw from the tournament.
The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reports multiple Pride players had gone to a bar, which prompted additional testing. Bars are open for business in Florida, which has seen a 179 percent increase in cases over the last couple weeks—the second largest spike in the country, next to Oklahoma.
Now, NWSL is scrambling to figure out what to do next. With only eight teams participating (at the moment), it means under the current format, all eight teams would make the knockout stage.
NWSL maintains that there could be games in local markets following the Utah tournament, but language included in rules released today by the league—prior to the Orlando announcement—seem to indicate that’s not likely to be the case.
1) The “2020 NWSL Season” will be defined by the NWSL as the number of games played by a team in the tournament. For example, this means that for two teams (those making the final) the 2020 NWSL Season will include 7 games, while for one team the 2020 NWSL will include only 4 games.
2) There will be no “NWSL postseason/playoffs” in 2020, so it will not be possible for players to earn any incentives based on post-season/playoff achievements. This will only impact contracts that include incentives based on post-season/playoff performance.
While Utah could be it for the 2020 NWSL season, today’s news again raises questions as to whether this tournament is worth the risk at all. It’s not as bad as Florida, but cases are also increasing in Utah—39 percent over the last two weeks there.
Major League Soccer, which is set to restart its season July 8 with a 26-team tournament in Orlando, should be asking similar questions. While players, coaches and staff there will be in quarantine, hotel staff and bus drivers will not.
Soccer players want to play. Soccer fans want to watch. But, we need to make sure our rush to return to something resembling normal doesn’t cause any problems we’ll soon regret.