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Orlando's withdrawl forces NWSL to 'adjust' Challenge Cup schedule in Utah

By Sean Walker and Jacob Klopfenstein, | Updated - Jun. 22, 2020 at 6:41 p.m. | Posted - Jun. 22, 2020 at 3:39 p.m.

SANDY — The National Women’s Soccer League had a complete list of rosters set to announce Monday prior to this weekend’s opener.

Now those plans are being reassessed.

Following the Monday withdrawal of the Orlando Pride due to positive COVID-19 tests, the league will adjust the now-eight team tournament at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman. Initial plans called for each of the league’s nine teams to play a four-match “preliminary stage” — similar to group-stage play common to most international tournaments — with all but one team advancing to the Round of 16 knockout stages.

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird reaffirmed the league’s commitment to the health and safety of players, coaches and staff members in a news release announcing six players and four Orlando staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.

“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,” said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird in a statement from the league. “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.”

Teams had previously submitted their final rosters of 22-28 players to the league Sunday, when the preseason trade window also closed, according to documents released by the NWSL.

An updated tournament schedule will be released as soon as possible, per league headquarters.

The Pride’s withdrawal from the tournament set up a chain of events that weren’t immediately sorted out. The Challenge Cup is scheduled to take place this weekend at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, with the host Utah Royals FC scheduled to begin the competition on Tuesday, June 30.

“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,” Orlando Pride Executive Vice President Amanda Duffy said in a news release. “While we were all excited to see the 2020 Pride on the field this weekend, our priority is now making sure our players and staff safely recover and providing any support wherever and however possible.”

Each positive test result came from an individual that was asymptomatic for the novel coronavirus, the club said.

Christen Press celebrates her goal during Utah Royals FC's 1-0 win over the Orlando Pride, Saturday, April 28, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. The Pride withdrew from the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup on Monday, prompting the league to adjust the now-eight team tournament's schedule. (Courtesy photo: Utah Royals FC, File)

The Pride finished 4-4-16 for last place in 2019 but had made several offseason moves to address team needs.

According to the league’s statement, six players and four staff members of the club tested positive. Those who tested positive will be isolated for 14 days and will receive medical care.

The outbreak is likely linked to multiple players’ visit to an Orlando-area bar, according to The Athletic. Bars have been open in Florida for several weeks as state officials work to reopen the economy in that state.

The Pride training ground also will be closed and thoroughly cleaned, the club said. Sister club Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer will not be affected, the club said, as the two teams train at separate training grounds 44 miles apart.

MLS will host the MLS is Back tournament July 8 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at DisneyWorld near Orlando.

Tournament and roster rules announced by the league Monday also indicate the NWSL Challenge Cup to be the only competitive matches available in the 2020 season.

“There will be no NWSL postseason/playoffs in 2020, so it will not be possible for players to earn any incentives based on postseason/playoff achievements,” league documents state. “This will only impact contracts that include incentives based on postseason/playoff performance.”

Other incentives still apply, such as those for goals or assists in a season — but those incentives will be applied to the NWSL Challenge Cup, including on a pro-rata basis, if necessary.

The league will not present the following awards for the 2020 season: Best XI; Second XI; Rookie of the Year; MVP; Golden Boot. In their place, the NWSL will award the following individual awards in conjunction with the Challenge Cup:

  • Golden Boot, given to the player with the most goals in the tournament.
  • Golden Glove, given to the top goalkeeper in the tournament.
  • Golden Ball, given to the best all-around player of the tournament.
  • Best XI, given to the top 11 players of the tournament.

Teams will be allowed five substitutions in every match of the tournament. All five subs, however, can only be made in three substitution periods, not including halftime.

There will be no extra time in any match of the Challenge Cup. Preliminary games may end in a draw, and knockout games will advance directly to penalty kicks upon the completion of regulation and stoppage time. Teams may substitute a goalkeeper at the start of penalty kicks — no field players, though — only on the provision that the current goalkeeper cannot continue with the match.

Two players that won’t be joining the Royals’ roster are Sarah Bouhaddi and Dzsenifer Marozsan. The goalkeeper and midfielder, respectively, each signed a multiyear extension with French side Olympique Lyonnais, as announced Monday by the team.

Both players had been linked with a move to Utah, including one report in a local Salt Lake City daily newspaper. But Bouhaddi, 33, signed through June 30, 2024, and the 28-year-old Marozsan is now signed through June 30, 2023.

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