The National Women’s Soccer League became the first professional sports league to return to action since the outbreak of coronavirus on Saturday. The 2020 Challenge Cup kicked off in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 27, and before the North Carolina Courage took on the Portland Thorns, every single player kneeled as the National Anthem played.
It was a moving scene at Zions Bank Stadium and for viewers watching the nationally televised match on CBS.
The NC Courage released an official joint statement on Twitter on behalf of both teams after the National Anthem finished. They wrote:
“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism against black people and people of color in America. We log our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”
During the NWSL Challenge Cup, 8 teams are participating and each is guaranteed to play at least five games. The tournament kicks off on June 27 and will conclude July 13.
How the NWSL Adujusted In Order to Kick Off Their Season Amid Coronavirus
The NWSL made large adjustments to their regular season in order to safely resume playing amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Players were also allowed to opt-out from participating this season without fear of penalty. MLS superstars such as Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath will not be playing in the Challenge Cup.
After 10 players of the Orlando Pride tested positive for coronavirus, the team withdrew from playing in the Challenge Cup altogether. The decision was made just six days before the Pride was set to take on the Chicago Red Stars on the opening day of the tournament.
Orlando Pride executive vice president Amanda Duffy said, “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. 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.”
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement: “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.”
For North Carolina midfielder, Samantha Mews, “I think we are just excited for the opportunity to play,” she said about playing amidst a pandemic. “I know myself and my teammates just want to showcase what we can do and compete again. I think that’s what we’ve all been missing the most is that sense of competition and wanting to be the best.”
With Orlando out, all 8 teams will advance to the knockout rounds.