On Saturday, the National Women’s Soccer League will become the first American team sport to return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. The league isn’t attempting a full season, instead aiming for the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Eight league teams — a ninth, the Orlando Pride, has withdrawn because of a run of positive coronavirus tests — are scheduled to play four regular-season matches each, then play in a seeded, single-elimination championship tournament.
Headlines heading into the monthlong event have mostly been centered around who isn’t playing. Not only did Orlando withdraw, but quite a few big-name American stars — OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe, Portland Thorns FC’s Tobin Heath, Utah Royals FC’s Christen Press and Sky Blue FC’s Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh — are also sitting out the tournament due to injury or other concerns. Thirteen Australian national team members who played in the NWSL last season are out as well. All-world Australian forward Sam Kerr left the Chicago Red Stars for Chelsea last November.