In the first instance of an entire team dropping out of a league’s return-to-play plan, the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League announced it is withdrawing from the NWSL Challenge Cup because of a recent outbreak of COVID-19 among players and staff.
The NWSL Challenge Cup is set to begin Saturday in Utah and would have featured all nine NWSL teams, including the Washington Spirit. Plans were for each team to play four games before proceeding to a knockout bracket format.
Reports said the Pride had 10 positive cases: six players and four staff.
“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 statement. “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.”
The team’s doctor added in a statement that the COVID-19 protocols the league put in place for the tournament would “make it logistically impossible” for Orlando to compete.
.The Washington Post reported that, “more likely than not,” the NWSL will not continue its 2020 season following the Challenge Cup.
The Pride’s COVID-19 outbreak follows a string of similar incidents among sports teams in Central Florida. Major League Baseball shut down all spring training facilities after players from the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays contracted COVID-19 near Tampa. The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning closed their practice facility due to multiple cases of the virus among players and staff, and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers also reported multiple positive cases this weekend.