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NWSL players kneel for national anthem, wear Black Lives Matter shirts

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NWSL players took a knee for the national anthem and wore shirts to support the Black Lives Matter movement as the top-flight of women’s soccer in North America returned on Saturday in Utah.

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The NWSL Challenge Cup kicked off amid plenty of focus as the first major sports league in the USA to resume play during the coronavirus pandemic.

All 22 players took a knee for the national anthem before kick, as players all wore shirts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Check out video of the scenes in Utah below, as several USWNT stars were in action during the first game of the month-long tournament between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns.

The tournament was supposed to feature all nine NWSL teams but the Orlando Pride pulled out of the competition after several players tested positive for COVID-19 after reportedly not following social-distancing guidelines in Florida.

This NWSL anthem kneel will grab plenty of headlines as the players took a stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and united as one.

Once again the NWSL and the USWNT lead the way in the fight against racism and inequality.

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.

[ MORE: Police investigate ‘White Lives Matter’ banner at MCIBUR ]

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.

[ MORE: Police investigate ‘White Lives Matter’ banner at MCIBUR ]

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.

NWSL consulted players with kids in developing tournament

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When the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was plotting its course for a summertime tournament to return to action, it reached out to a select group: moms.

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There are just a handful of mothers who play in the NWSL. But with the league asking players to travel to Utah and be sequestered for more than a month, moms’ voices are important.

Take North Carolina Courage forward Jessica McDonald, whose son Jeremiah is 8. She spoke up when new league Commissioner Lisa Baird got the moms on a call to discuss the tournament.

“I’m raising my hand immediately and, I’m like, ‘Well, first and foremost, I can’t live in a hotel for a month with an 8-year-old!’ No thank you,” McDonald said, laughing. “He bounces off walls.”

The moms made sure that caretakers for their kids would be allowed to come along. McDonald, who will have a family member with her, said she was glad the league took the time to address her concerns and those of other parents.

“They answered, or if they didn’t have the answer to some of the questions, they were able to get back to us immediately. So that was kind of cool,” McDonald said. “They handled it really well and they’ve been just very helpful overall with this entire process.”

Amy Rodriguez, who plays for the Utah Royals, has two kids.

“I think that what relieves that concern is the confidence of our medical staff and the confidence I have in them, Utah, the NWSL, the players’ association, we’ve all put in a lot of effort to make a really good plan to address concerns and hopefully tackle them,” she said.

The NWSL is scheduled to be the first U.S. pro team league to return play during the coronavirus pandemic. Its month-long tournament will be held in the Salt Lake City area starting June 27 with no fans in attendance.

The league’s nine teams will play four preliminary round games, with eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals. The opener and the final match on July 26 are set to be aired nationally on CBS, the league’s new broadcast partner.

For the return to play the players will be sequestered in facilities used by the NWSL side Utah Royals and Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake, including a stadium and several training fields. The league’s 230 players and support staff will be housed either in dormitories or at a hotel.

A 15-physician panel helped develop a testing and safety protocol. The league consulted the NWSL players’ union, U.S. Soccer and the national team’s players association before going forward with the return to play.

And the league checked in with the moms.

“This is something that’s pretty close to my heart. When we asked the players, in particular the moms, to come for a month to Utah, I know what that’s like because I spent time away from my kids for many weeks at the Olympic Games,” said Baird, a former chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “So what I can tell you right now is that we’re working to develop specific solutions for them. I’ve been on one call with the moms so far. We’re going to have more as we really develop a plan that helps them.”

McDonald and Rodriguez plan to play in the tournament. Other mothers in the NWSL include Sydney Leroux, who had her second child last June, and Chicago’s Sarah Gordon.

The union made sure the league’s players will get paid and are insured for the season – even if they choose not to play in the tournament out of health and safety concerns.

“If players feel as though they are unsafe or uncomfortable, this is not something that we are required or mandated to participate in. So for players who have concerns that aren’t being addressed or needs that are not being met, I’m happy that at this point time they can opt out,” Rodriguez said. “At the end of the day, I just want everybody safe and comfortable and happy.”

McDonald said one of Jeremiah’s first questions when she told him about the tournament was: “Did the coronavirus stop now?”

“I said no, not necessarily, but we’re going to be very careful. I had to tell about doctors being there and things like that to obviously make him feel more comfortable,” McDonald said. “But he’s overall very excited.”

NWSL announce return; first pro league in U.S. to restart play

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The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will return to play on June 27 with a new exciting tournament, becoming the first professional sports league in the U.S. to announce a date to return to action.

Did somebody say tournament soccer? That’s right, things are about to get very fun in the NWSL season as the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup has arrived.

All nine NWSL clubs will feature, as a 25-game tournament will by held in Utah from June to July to mark the 2020 season.

Each NWSL club will play four games in a preliminary round in Herriman, Utah to determine seeding, with the top eight teams then moving on to the quarterfinals as the tournament will become a knockout competition.

The semifinals and final will then be held at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the Championship match to take place on July 26. The tournament is hosted by Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen, as all housing, training, and competition needs for the league’s nine teams will be taken care of in Utah as an “NWSL Village” will be created to control the environment for players and staff.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird confirmed all games will be played in empty stadiums, while adding that they are excited to mark the return of pro soccer, and sports, in the USA.

“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” Baird said. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”

The NWSL were in preseason and due to start the 2020 regular season on April 18 but that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Per the league statement, health and medical officials at each club have worked tirelessly over the last nine months to come up with a safety protocol.

“Each player, official, and essential staff member will be tested 48 hours prior to departure for Utah and upon arrival and will be subject to consistent testing, temperature readings, and symptom review throughout their stay in Utah.”

The NWSL is leading the way for professional soccer, and sports, to return to the US in some format this summer.

With the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS all exploring similar options of hosting games in a tournament format in fixed, neutral sites, all eyes will be on the NWSL to see how they pull it off.