NWSL Challenge Cup

Kelley O'Hara
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USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

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When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

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“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

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

Megan Rapinoe NWSL
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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.