The Orlando Pride announced the team will miss the upcoming NWSL tournament after six players and four staff tested positive for coronavirus. The Challenge Cup is still on schedule to start in Utah on June 27 with the remaining eight teams.
The NWSL is the first US professional team sport to start up again in the wake of the global pandemic. The league and players association worked hand in glove on their restart details, especially in light of the risks. But a regional viral flareup — coupled with the reopening of bars and clubs — may have thwarted the NWSL’s best-laid plans.
NWSL’s Orlando Problem is Every Team’s Problem
On Monday, the Pride issued a statement explaining the reason for their withdrawal from the tournament. The statement disclosed that a number of players and staff, although asymptomatic, had tested positive for the coronavirus. A NWSL tweet said six of Orlando’s players tested positive. The Wall Street Journal reported that four staff members also tested positive.
The large number of people testing positive raised concerns that the virus had spread during practice. But rumors now suggest it may have been clubbing, not heading, that caused the transmission. Sportswriter Caitlin Murray has the scoop.
Speaking to a few sources, it appears #NWSL players were supposed to self-isolate but a group of younger Orlando Pride players went out to nightclubs and bars, which have been open in Florida. Transmission was determined not to be through training, which was the main concern.
— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) June 22, 2020
While this is a problem for the NWSL and the Orlando Pride, it could be every league’s problem. On Friday, MLB closed down spring training in Florida, after multiple teams reported positive test results. The NBA is now rightfully concerned about its own Florida bubble plan. This is not, however, just a Florida or a hotspot issue. It is also a young athlete/socializing issue.
As states slowly reopen for business, a disproportionate number of young people are testing positive for the virus. Major college football programs are identifying positive cases almost daily. Cities — from La Crosse, Wisconsin to Austin, Texas — are having a particularly hard time regulating newly reopened bars and clubs.
While the proportion of young people hospitalized for the virus is rising, young people still appear to have a lower risk of severe illness or death. But that may make them more complacent, and that’s starting to worry veteran pros, who fear not everyone is taking precautions.
More Pros Opt-Out as Risk Grows
Megan Rapinoe opted out of the NWSL’s Challenge Cup weeks before the Orlando Pride’s viral flare-up. Even back then, the risks were too great for the veteran player and USWNT member. On Sunday, Sky Blue issued a statement that superstar Carli Lloyd will not play in the Challenge Cup. A minor knee injury is being credited for Lloyd’s absence.
After the Pride’s withdrawal, however, more professional soccer players have opted out. Tobin Heath of the Portland Thorns withdrew on Tuesday, stating,
“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.”
Christen Press of the Utah Royals also withdrew this week, citing “uncertainty created by COVID-19.”
This isn’t just an anomalous hiccup. Novak Djokovic announced Tuesday that he and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19 following a similar outbreak that recently occurred during the recent Adria Tennis Tour. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, flare-ups like these remain a scenario that can disrupt any sport at any time.