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

At least six Orlando Pride players and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and the team will not travel to Utah to participate in the National Women’s Soccer League’s 2020 Challenge Cup. The club said in an announcement on Monday that it had voluntarily withdrawn from the tournament, adding that everyone who tested positive was asymptomatic.

Orlando was scheduled to kick off the Challenge Cup in Utah on Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars. The NWSL said in a statement that it was moving ahead with an eight-team tournament and would release a new schedule soon.

Multiple sources tell The Equalizer that some Pride players had participated in various forms of behavior which did not maintain social distancing, including being at social establishments such as bars and nightclubs. Bars, pubs, nightclubs and restaurants in Florida all began reopening and increasing capacity restrictions over the past several weeks. One source said that the NWSL Medical Task Force was able to perform contact tracing to a degree of certainty that the club’s first COVID-19 case came from some form of social activity in the community.

Florida on Monday became the seventh state in the U.S. to pass 100,000 COVID-19 cases. That number has risen sharply in recent weeks as testing has increased.

Players across the NWSL signed acknowledgements (not waivers) that they knew the risks to starting up training and playing in the tournament, but no sources were aware of specific guidelines outside of those which regulated training and team operations. It is unclear if Orlando had any team rules in place about off-field behavior. A team spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.

Going out to a bar would have been an explicit violation of Challenge Cup policy in Utah, where players will not be allowed to leave the athlete village. In home markets, though, there is more independence, and most guidance from teams league-wide was focused on how to safely protest. The Florida government’s more aggressive reopening of businesses, combined with rising COVID-19 cases, made Orlando one of the league’s higher-risk markets.

The NWSL announced on Thursday that a player tested positive for COVID-19 and the contact tracing and positive-test protocols had been put into place. At the time, the NWSL declined to announce the player’s name or team she plays for, but said that “thus far all resulting tests have been negative.” That first positive test was an Orlando Pride player.

Orlando held an optional, limited team training session on Friday in which players who live together could train together. NWSL protocols require a team to close all facilities within 48 hours of a positive test result, but there is not explicit guidance on when those facilities should reopen.

A new round of testing revealed that at least five more Pride players, in addition to several staff members, have COVID-19. One source suggested that the number of infected could be larger than six players and four staff members, as results continue to return. The number of confirmed cases and possibly affected Pride players was too great for the team to attempt to field a team in the tournament, given quarantine requirements.

Orlando forward Sydney Leroux said in a tweet that she was “heartbroken. The majority of our team & staff worked our asses off to put us in the best position to play the game we love again.”

In accordance with CDC guidelines, those players and staff who tested positive have received medical guidance and will be isolated for at least 14 days, per the club. Anyone who had close contact with those who tested positive is also being monitored.

“While we were all looking forward to seeing the Pride return to the field, we are unfortunately facing a decision that is necessary and in the best interest for the health of our players and staff. The decision goes far beyond just the positives, but also taking into consideration roommates or partners,” said Daryl Osbahr, M.D., team doctor for Orlando Pride, chief of sports medicine for Orlando Health and member of the NWSL Medical Task Force. “I commend the Club for its diligence and reaction following the initial positive test, as well as how the safety of players and staff was prioritized during this difficult and uncertain time. However the guidelines and process that are put in place, including the important protocols and timelines for contact tracing, make it logistically impossible for the Club to participate in the Challenge Cup in Utah.”

The NWSL said in a statement that “no other positive test results have occurred” in the league to date. League protocols require any player or team staff to test negative for COVID-19 in order to leave her home market for Utah.

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

The Orlando Pride said in a statement that the players who tested positive “did not have any direct interaction with any players or coaching staff from Orlando City SC or Orlando City B,” the club’s two men’s teams. The three clubs have remained separated. The Pride’s training facility has also been closed and will undergo thorough cleaning and sterilization.


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