NWSL Challenge Cup: The tournament begins with notable absences

Key players and the Orlando Pride will sit out of the NWSL Challenge Cup.

The NWSL Challenge Cup begins June 27 with coverage on CBS in what should have been a celebratory return to play for the professional women’s league.

The tournament will mark the first professional contact team sport returning to play in the United States. Unfortunately, the tournament has received very little press or recognition as the MLS and other men’s leagues have been at the forefront of conversations.

This could and should have been the perfect opportunity for the country to get behind the women’s league.

Though loyal fans have thrown their support behind their favourite teams and players, not all fans will be lucky enough to see their favourites in action.

The NWSL Challenge Cup began as a nine-team tournament designed to be played in replacement of the league’s 2020 season. It has now been reduced to eight teams as the NWSL’s Orlando Pride announced on Monday that they’d be sitting this one out altogether after some of the players and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

This means fans will miss out on seeing USWNT players Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, and Emily Sonnett along with Brazilian soccer legend Marta, who all play for Orlando and will stay home with their teammates.

Due to obvious health concerns leading up to the tournament, the NWSL gave players the opportunity to opt-out of the tournament without any consequences to their contracts or pay.

Though Orlando is the only team that has dropped out of the tournament thus far, individual players have chosen to sit out including USWNT players Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath.

High profile national team players who are not at risk of losing spots in the starting line up when they return to play with their teams have little incentive to risk their health by competing in the tournament, particularly since they will continue to be paid.

In addition to those who have chosen to stay home, USWNT’s Carli Lloyd and Mallory Pugh will miss the tournament due to injury.

With so many staying home, the star power of many of the NWSL teams is depleted which means the quality of the tournament is likely to suffer. One can only hope that in their absence new stars will rise and give us an exciting tournament.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website, or the website for your state’s Department of Health.