The Orlando Pride withdrew Monday from the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup tournament after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19. A second round of tests will be conducted to confirm the results, the league said, but because of the number of positive tests and the timeline necessary before returning to training and competition, the team had no choice but to pull out of the event.
The NWSL’s 29-day tournament in Salt Lake City will make it the first U.S. professional sports league to resume play since the coronavirus halted competition on March 12. The team was expected to leave Florida for Utah on Wednesday.
“The health and safety of our players and staff is our number one priority and our thoughts are with those players and staff fighting this infection, as well as the entire club in Orlando that have been impacted as a result,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement. “We’re all obviously disappointed, but in the current environment, this is a situation that we have prepared for and we will now adjust our plans and schedules to reflect the circumstances.”
The Pride said the 10 people who tested positive were asymptomatic and will be quarantined for two weeks. People who might have had close contact with the team members, including housemates, have been notified and are being monitored for symptoms. They will continue to undergo additional COVID-19 testing, the team said.
“It was determined that it would be in the best interest of the health and safety of the players, the staff and the rest of the league that the Pride voluntarily withdraw” from the tournament, Amanda Duffy, the team’s executive vice president, said in statement. “This was obviously a difficult and disappointing outcome for our players, our staff and fans, however this is a decision that was made in order to protect the health of all involved in the Challenge Cup.”
Florida, which has seen a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, on Monday became just the seventh state to record more than 100,000 infections since the pandemic began last winter. More than 3,100 Floridians have died.
The state, which had a record 4,049 new cases Saturday, registered 2,926 more positive tests Monday and that surge could complicate matters for MLS and the NBA, which already have announced plans to resume their seasons in Orlando next month.
“These are the things that are going to happen and that’s why it’s so important that we have consistent testing,” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “It’s so you can limit any exposure once you get a positive test.”
Atlanta United had two players test positive for COVID-19 last week and MLS expansion club Inter Miami had one. D.C. United and FC Dallas also announced positive tests this month.
“The reality is that the procedure for the tournament was built up over a lot of discussions with all of the medical experts, whether that’s medical experts guiding the league, medical experts guiding the players’ union,” Eales added. “They came up with the concept, and you’ve seen that with both MLS and the NBA, which are in a similar type of scenario.”
The Pride’s withdrawal is the latest blow to what Baird and the NWSL hoped would be a celebratory return to play for a league that rarely receives national attention despite being home to all 23 players from last summer’s World Cup champion U.S. national team. Saturday’s opener between the two-time defending league champion North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns will be televised by CBS, marking the first time a women’s professional club match will be broadcast live on a national over-the-air network in the U.S.
Over the weekend Carli Lloyd, a two-time world player of the year, pulled out of the competition because of a knee injury. Megan Rapinoe, the reigning world player of the year, previously had said she was skipping the tournament because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19. The Pride’s withdrawal takes with it U.S. national team goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defenders Ali Krieger and Emily Sonnet.
Also missing is forward Alex Morgan, who gave birth to her first child in May.