Coronavirus Outbreak: Football returns to USA with National Women's Soccer League matches in empty stadiums

Players from the nine teams will train and live at two Salt Lake City-area hotels, the league announced Wednesday

The Associated Press May 27, 2020 21:03:33 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: Football returns to USA with National Women's Soccer League matches in empty stadiums

Pro football returns to the US next month when the National Women's Soccer League starts a 25-game tournament in a pair of stadiums in Utah that will be kept clear of fans to protect players from the coronavirus .

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Members of the US Women's National team warm up during practice at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. AP

Players from the nine teams will train and live at two Salt Lake City-area hotels, the league announced Wednesday. All players will be tested for COVID-19 before leaving for Utah, and then will be regularly screened during their monthlong stay.

No fans will be allowed into the Zions Bank or Rio Tinto stadiums, two suburban Salt Lake City venues that will host the action.

The tournament begins 27 June, with games to be televised and streamed by CBS and its online and broadcast affiliates. It's a boon for a league that was looking for a new TV partner in the wake of the US women's victory in the World Cup last year and now finds itself on the front end of American leagues returning and offering live sports in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The league's biggest draw, World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, is under contract with Reign FC. The league gave no indication of whether she would play in the tournament, and the availability of several of the league's top stars is in question, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The league was supposed to begin its 2020 season 18 April. Its players' union agreed to the terms of the return, which will include four games of pool play for each team, followed by an eight-team, single-elimination tournament that will conclude 26 July.

“As the plans for the tournament unfolded, it was our priority as the (players' association) to protect our players, and we feel that NWSL shares those values,” union leaders Yael Overmuch and Brooke Elby said in a statement.

America's major men's football league, Major League Soccer (MLS), has resumed limited training in the hopes of restarting this summer. The German Bundesliga resumed play in empty stadiums earlier this month after a two-month hiatus; other major leagues in Europe, including the Premier League, are trying to figure out the logistics of getting back to play.

The NWSL used the roll-out of the plans for its summertime tournament to also announce a new sponsorship deal with Verizon.

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