Orlando Pride withdraw from NWSL Challenge Cup due to COVID-19 cases

Tribune Content Agency

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Pride will not participate in the NWSL Challenge Cup after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19 Monday morning.

A club source indicated some of the test results were inconclusive and could later turn out to be negative. However, the Pride had to quarantine such a large group of athletes and staff that they could not field a team to compete in the NWSL tournament.

All of the individuals who tested positive were asymptomatic, according to an Orlando Pride news release. The Pride were previously set to depart on Wednesday for Utah to face off against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday in the opening day of the tournament.

The positive cases stemmed from multiple players visiting a bar in Orlando, according to a league source. The outing prompted additional testing that went beyond the typical standard for NWSL clubs, resulting in the total of 10 positive tests after multiple team members were exposed to those who visited a bar.

Bars have been open in Florida since early June, but they have been a source for a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.

Multiple Orlando Pride officials declined to comment about players’ personal lives when asked about the bar visit.

The Athletic’s Meg Lineham was the first to report players were exposed to the virus at a bar.

The NWSL took a different approach than the Major League Soccer and the NBA when it came to preparation for its tournament.

The NBA is slated to quarantine players at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World for at least 15 days before their first scrimmages and Orlando City will spend 13 days inside its Disney World bubble before its first match.

The Pride were scheduled to fly to Utah three days before playing its NWSL Challenge Cup opener.

A source told the Orlando Sentinel the Orlando Pride had lobbied to fly to Utah 10 days before the start of the tournament, which could have been enough time for players to be quarantined and pass follow-up tests. A source said the earliest the Pride were allowed to fly to Utah was Wednesday.

The decision to withdraw from the tournament was a devastating blow for the Pride, who had high hopes for a deep tournament run. The team will miss out on a chance to avenge a dismal 2019 season.

“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.”

The players and staff members who tested positive will be isolated for at least 14 days and will continue to receive medical attention. Housemates and other team members who have come into close contact with the affected individuals will continue to be monitored for symptoms and undergo testing.

The NWSL announced it will update its tournament format to adjust to only eight participating teams.

“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,” NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said. “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.”

Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner helped overhaul the team roster after a frustrating 4-16-4 run in 2019. He approached 2020 as a “make-or-break” season for his tenure in Orlando, bringing in a slew of new players including defenders Emily Sonnett and Ali Riley to fortify the Pride backline.

The Challenge Cup offered a redemptive opportunity for many players on the team. Defender Toni Pressley was set to make a comeback after beating a breast cancer diagnosis she received in the middle of the 2019 season. Striker Sydney Leroux was preparing to prove that a mother can still play at the highest level after giving birth to her second child last July.

Leroux wrote on Twitter she was “heartbroken” by the withdrawal.

“The majority of our team (and) staff worked our asses off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again,” Leroux wrote. “Not just for ourselves but for our families, friends, fans (and) our city. Good luck to the teams going to (Utah). Wish we were there with you. Stay safe.”

Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger were prepared to lead the team as captains in their first season after their marriage in December, and Brazilian star Marta was primed to add another season to her legendary career after extending her contract last fall. New defender Ali Riley was eager to return to a league in the U.S. for the first time since the folding of the WPS.

The Pride roster represented a collection of players with everything to gain and nothing to lose in the Challenge Cup. Even after receiving the absolute toughest draw — with the hardest slate of opponents and the tightest timetable of games — the team was eager to compete in the tournament.

“In order to be the best, you have to beat every team, so I’m willing to play the best teams there because we want to be the champions and we want to compete,” Krieger said last week. “We have a new focus and a new mentality this year and we’re ready to win. And it doesn’t matter who is going to be in our way, we’re going to take one game at a time, one opponent at a time and focus on each day just individually and hopefully be successful.”

Despite the slew of positive tests for the Pride, the club confirmed none of those who tested positive came into direct contact with players or coaching staff from Orlando City or Orlando City B.

All Orlando City players and staff passed their COVID-19 tests on Sunday, and the entire team will be re-tested again on Tuesday. The Lions will enter the bubble at ESPN Wide World of Sports for the MLS Is Back tournament on Thursday.


©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.