National Women’s Soccer League

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USWNT’s Rapinoe, Heath among players opting out of NWSL tournament

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U.S. national team players Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press have opted out of the National Women’s Soccer League tournament kicking off this weekend in Utah.

Heath and Press, who played with Rapinoe on the champion World Cup team last summer in France, cited concerns about the coronavirus for their decisions not to play.

“Although I want to be on the field with my teammates doing what I love, because of the uncertainty and risks created by COVID-19, I have chosen not to participate in the NWSL Challenge Cup,” Heath, who plays for the Portland Thorns, said in a statement released by the team.

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The Challenge Cup opens Saturday with a game between the Thorns and the defending champion North Carolina Courage. The league’s teams announced their rosters on Tuesday.

Among the national team players taking part in the tournament are Chicago’s Julie Ertz, U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year, and teammate Alyssa Naeher, North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn and Portland’s Becky Sauerbrunn.

The league was rocked by the announcement Monday that the Orlando Pride were dropping out of the tournament after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The withdrawal leaves eight teams participating in the monthlong tournament.

A new schedule was released Tuesday following the Pride’s withdrawal. In addition to Portland’s game against the Courage on Saturday, the Chicago Red Stars will play the Washington Spirit in the late match.

Rapinoe’s team, OL Reign, did not provide a reason for her decision to sit out.

“Megan let us know that she has decided not play in the tournament. Like all NWSL players, she was given the option to participate. Farid (Benstiti, coach of the Reign) and I would love to have her with the club for the tournament, but we understand and respect her decision,” Reign CEO Bill Predmore said in a statement.

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Press released a statement through her team, the Utah Royals, that said: “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. 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.”

Sky Blue previously announced that Carli Lloyd would not take part in the tournament because of a minor left knee injury. Teammate Mallory Pugh won’t play because of a hip injury.

The NWSL is the first team sport in the United States to return after sports were shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. Players were given the option of opting out without losing salaries or insurance.

Teams will be sequestered during the tournament and games will be played at stadiums in Herriman and Sandy, which are suburbs of Salt Lake City. The tournament will run through July 26.

The opener and the final will be broadcast on CBS.

Orlando pulls out of NWSL Challenge Cup after positive COVID-19 tests

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The Orlando Pride are pulling out of the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah “due to positive COVID-19 tests amongst players and staff.”

The players and staff will go into isolation for 14 days, the club announced.

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The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reports that “multiple players visited a bar in Orlando that prompted additional testing,” leading to the positive tests.

The tournament will go on as an 8-team event since no Pride players had been exposed to players at other clubs.

Without Orlando, the tournament will be without notable names like Emily van Egmond, Ali Krieger, Marta, Ashlyn Harris, and Sydney Leroux. Alex Morgan is on the Pride and gave birth to a baby in May.

The NWSL Challenge Cup is set to make the NWSL the first American pro sports league to return to the pitch after the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

FIFPro calls for maintaining support for women’s soccer

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The international players’ union FIFPro is calling for continued financial support of women’s soccer worldwide in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

FIFPro issued a report Thursday warning of COVID-19’s impact, saying it is “likely to present an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.”

that the global absence of industry standards and worker protections means women are especially vulnerable and that an economic downturn could affect otherwise stable clubs.

There are signs the pandemic is already taking a toll in addition to the cancellation and postponement of league play and tournaments worldwide. In Colombia, Independiente Santa Fe suspended all player contracts for its women’s soccer team recently but said its men’s team would only see pay cuts.

The pandemic came at a time when women’s soccer was on the upswing, boosted by the success of last year’s World Cup in France.

“We do have concerns about investments in the women’s game being dropped or reduced or pre-crisis investments being withdrawn, ultimately, from the women’s game. We’re concerned that decision-makers might ignore the needs of women or exclude women’s football from recovering support programs,” said Amanda Vandervort, FIFPro chief women’s football officer.

“But we’re here with solutions and to present ideas and innovations, and a new way to approach women’s football for the best interests of the players and the long-term success of our women’s football industry.”

A 2017 FIFPro survey showed most women’s players don’t earn a living wage: 60% of paid players take home less than $600 a month and 37% say they are paid late.

FIFPro laid out five recommendations for the industry: Prioritize player physical and mental care, apply special financial measures for players and clubs, ensure pre-pandemic investments aren’t withdrawn, make sure women are included in any financial relief measures and develop solidarity systems across the women’s game to insure its recovery.

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“We just thought it was an absolute necessity to highlight, in the course of this crisis management problem, the importance of paying conscious attention to the women’s game because the damage that a crisis like this can have on an industry which has been growing so well but is still very fragile in many places, can be very drastic,” FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said.

The Netherlands-based organization plans to release a larger report later this month on the growth and development of women’s soccer.

“I think what is very clear, and we just have to come to terms with it, is that football, as many other parts of our society, will look very different very soon. And I think there is a fundamental question here whether we want to rebuild based on the initial short-term commercial views of the game only, or whether we want to start building it around a set of values that can actually sustain and bring out the best parts of what we are involved in, in the long term,” Baer-Hoffmann said.

World Cup winner McDonald waits for NWSL to “skyrocket” back

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It’s an incredibly challenging time for all athletes, whether their seasons were disrupted midstream or delayed before they could begin their runs.

Spare a thought, relatively-speaking, for the players of the USWNT and National Women’s Soccer League. Women’s soccer is arguably at its peak worldwide, but their leagues have to rest on its laurels with the knowledge that their brightest players won’t get to shine on the Olympic stage until 2021.

There’s also the ongoing equal pay lawsuit by the USWNT against the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has also been delayed five weeks.

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In the case of the NWSL, Opening Day was supposed to start Saturday but of course has been delayed indefinitely. Jessica McDonald and her NC Courage team would be starting their defense of three-consecutive NWSL Shields and two-straight NWSL Championships.

McDonald, instead, is training with one teammate — fellow USWNT star Abby Dahlkemper — and wondering how much the coronavirus pandemic delay will affect her sport. She knows the league can

She says the league was well set-up for this challenge, as much as it could be, but that she can’t help thinking of the “What ifs?”

“We were kinda on this momentum in the U.S. for women’s soccer,” McDonald told ProSoccerTalk on Friday (listen to the entire conversation here).

“I thought that coming into 2020 we were going to (come in) with a bang in the NWSL as a whole organization. I was pretty excited to see what the fan base was going to be like in comparison to last year. For this to cause this delay during this pandemic, we’ll see what kind of fan base there’s going to be because it’s not going to be what I expected.”

NC Courage
(Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

The delay began before the announcement that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would not take place this summer.

That meant the two-time defending World Cup champions would need to wait even longer to avenge their failure to medal at the 2016 Games in Brazil, the first time the USWNT finished off the podium at the Olympics.

For some players, it could be their only shot to compete at the Olympics. Others, their last. And McDonald admitted to thinking beyond soccer when lamenting her possible chance to hit the Olympic pitch.

“It was devastating to all of us athletes,” she said. “We have people who are thinking about retirement after they are done (with the Olympics). Think about gymnasts. They can only go so far with their age before going into their career fields. It’s insane to be a part. Pushing it back, a lot of us were devastated and disappointed but if it’s to secure our health, so-be-it.”

McDonald’s no stranger to disappointment and delays at the international level. After representing the U.S. at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels en route to being drafted No. 2 overall in the 2010 NWS Draft, she tore a patella tendon early in her rookie year and then found out she was pregnant with her son Jeremiah.

She worked at a factory while building back to fitness and didn’t make a full USWNT until 2016.

Suffice it to say that a World Cup celebration in 2019 didn’t seem a possibility.

“Looking back on all of that is mind-blowing,” McDonald said. “I went through the injury. Docs are telling me that physically I won’t be as fast. I wouldn’t measure up to being a full potential athlete. I fully ruptured my patella tendon, found out I was pregnant at the same time.”

“I found my motivation through my kid. Because I’ve been a mom since the NWSL has been the NWSL, day one. Scraping pinnies while trying to juggle motherhood was very challenging. It’s gonna be an inspiring thing for me in the future. I was inspired by him, and I want him to be inspired by me. He’s at an age where he’s going to remember all this. I’m just here to show him how hard your life journey gets some time but if you’re inspired by something, you hold onto that and use that until you reach your goal. Don’t stop until you get there.”

“The two of us are always gonna have that bond. He’s gonna remember that moment and we’re gonna be talking about that in the future. And I cannot wait.”

The celebrations took a turn due to the equal pay law suit the USWNT filed against the federation, and even more so when court documents showed belittling language against the women.

Jessica McDonald
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McDonald admits to being stung by the words and says the feelings were universal. Teammate Megan Rapinoe didn’t buy the ensuing apology from USWNT president Carlos Cordeiro, who’s since resigned.

“Obviously we were furious: It was blatantly sexist,” she said. “It was almost like a slap in our face but the bond we have in our team, it is so strong. You saw how powerful this case got. We have people in France, entire stadiums, screaming out equal pay together in a whole other country, here having our backs? This is something historical… It’s so strong and powerful when we do come together, it moves people. We kinda walk with some confidence because we’ve proven ourselves as female athletes. It’s frustrating but we’ll see what the outcome’s gonna be.”

We may have the answer to that before McDonald and the Courage begin their latest title defense, one which will prominently feature the 32-year-old.

“Since we have the core of this team together for five years,” she said. “The advantage is how well we know each others as players and the really cool camaraderie we have in the locker room. It’s one of a kind.”

McDonald is among the more decoated players in the nascent history of the NWSL, having also won the 2016 NWSL Championship with the Western New York Flash before the franchise moved to Cary. She’s scored double-digit goals in three markets, and also had success in a brief stint for Australia’s Melbourne Victory.

We wouldn’t bet against her adding to it. When the NWSL does return, McDonald’s and her crew will be ready to help the league quickly regain any lost ground.

“Everybody’s gonna be fueled up,” she said. “Momentum is gonna skyrocket.”

(Listen to the entire conversation with McDonald here).

Portland acquires two-time World Cup winner Becky Sauerbrunn

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Thorns have acquired veteran U.S. national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn from the Utah Royals.

The long-rumored deal was made official Tuesday. The Royals acquired defender Elizabeth Ball and $100,000 in allocation money, with the possibility of additional allocation money if future conditions are met.

Sauerbrunn is in Orlando, Florida with the national team, preparing for the SheBelieves Cup tournament. The United States opens the tournament on Thursday night against England.

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In an interview published on the Portland Thorns’ website, Sauerbrunn said she was excited to come to Portland, where she lives in the offseason.

“As a player, I’ve lived my life in two parts, where my life with my team has been away from where I (otherwise) lived,” she said. “Going to Portland at this point in my career, having lived there for five years, that changes. This move allows me to play at home.”

Sauerbrunn has played professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League since 2013, starting with FC Kansas City before moving to the Royals in 2018. She’s been named NWSL Defender of the Year four times.

Thorns general manager Gavin Wilkinson said he appreciated Utah’s cooperation in the deal to bring Sauerbrunn home.

“Becky will give us tremendous experience and leadership at the back,” Wilkinson said. “Her addition to a group of players with championship capabilities and aspirations is exciting on all levels.”

Sauerbrunn was on the U.S. team that won the World Cup in 2015 and again last summer in France. She also won the Olympic gold medal with the team in 2012. She has 174 appearances with the national team.