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NWSL

In case you needed another reminder that this coronavirus thing is dangerous

Here you go.

The Orlando Pride have withdrawn from the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup after six players and four staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, a significant setback for a league attempting to become the first in American professional team sports to resume competition.

Orlando announced the decision Monday, six days before it was scheduled to play the Chicago Red Stars on the opening day of the tournament held in the Salt Lake City area. It said in a statement that all players and staff who tested positive remained asymptomatic.

“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,” said Orlando Pride executive vice president Amanda Duffy, who resigned as NWSL president in January. “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 teams were still in preseason in March when the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down sports in the United States. After repeatedly postponing the start of its scheduled season, the league announced in late May that it would resume play with a tournament in Utah involving all nine teams.

Speaking at the time the tournament was announced in May, Dr. Daryl Osbahr, team doctor for the Orlando Pride and a member of the NWSL’s medical task force, said it was inevitable that there would be positive tests but that the league put protocols in place that it hoped would allow for “not shutting down the tournament or necessarily a team by one positive result.”

Those protocols, which called for contact tracing and quarantining what were deemed high-risk contacts, apparently made it unfeasible for the Pride to travel to Utah and begin play.

See here for the background. The rest of the NWSL is still on track to play, but this is a stark reminder that no matter what all of the leagues that are currently in some state of returning to play plan to do, it’s ultimately not in their control. Any or all of them may wind up shutting down again because the risk to player and other employees’ safety is just too great. Until there’s a vaccine, or at least a reliable cure, this is the reality we are in. Our plans are all written on sand.

MLS agrees on its restart, WNBA still considering options

More sports coming.

The MLS Players Association voted Wednesday to approve a revised collective bargaining agreement with the league. The new deal will run through 2025 and clears the way for Major League Soccer to resume its 2020 season via a single-site format in Orlando, Fla.

“I can’t give any further specifics on that Orlando concept,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a video conference with media. “That was a very, very big part of our discussions with our players. …We were fortunate to be able to finalize an agreement, as the union announced early this morning.”

Garber said details regarding the competition in Orlando, including format and dates, will be released later, but it is expected to be a tournament lasting no longer than 35 days. It will be conducted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which is where the NBA is planning to finish its season.

The commissioner also reiterated his commitment to finishing the season, even if that means pushing the MLS playoffs into 2021.

See here for the background. As noted, the NWSL is already set to return, on June 27. The NBA will be using the same ESPN facility, and I have yet to see how the logistics of that will be handled. I’m sure someone has a plan for it.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is still figuring things out.

The WNBA is considering playing its season at an MGM Resorts International property if it has a season this year, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The other location under consideration is IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The league announced the suspension of its season in April amid the coronavirus pandemic and has not decided on a start date. Operational details of a possible start are not clear, but the league would use a single site — much like the NBA.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the AP on Tuesday that the league has discussed a variety of options but did not confirm whether Las Vegas or IMG Academy were possible locations.

“We’re looking at the pros and cons of a number of different locations,” Engelbert told the AP.

The WNBA hadn’t actually started its season yet – like MLB, it was still in its preseason when it suspended activities. If the WNBA chooses to play its games in Las Vegas, they may have some company in the form of the National Hockey League, which is considering Vegas among a list of other cities to play its games; like the NBA, the NHL season was suspended just before playoffs were to begin. Again, I’m sure someone will figure out how to handle multiple leagues and all their people sharing the same facility. I’m just trying to stay on top of the news here.

Reopening 3.0

Who wants to go to a water park?

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Tuesday announcing additional services and activities that can resume under his second wave of reopenings, allowing food courts in shopping malls to reopen immediately and giving the green light for water parks to begin operations with limited capacity starting Friday.

Recreational sports programs for adults can restart Sunday, though games and similar competitions may not recommence until June 15. Abbott also permitted driver education programs to resume operations immediately.

For food court dining areas that choose to reopen, Abbott is encouraging malls to designate one or more people who are responsible for enforcing social distancing and ensuring tables are cleaned and disinfected between uses.

[…]

While indoor and outdoor pools can operate at 25% occupancy, the governor’s previous directives have specifically said people should continue to avoid interactive amusement venues like water parks. Abbott was facing pressure, however, from a Houston-area water park that initially said last week that it would defy Abbott’s orders and reopen Saturday for Memorial Day weekend. Asked about that last week, Abbott told an Austin television station that his office was talking with operators to make sure they complied.

“They subject themselves to potential litigation as well as potential licensing-based issues if they fail to comply, and so it’s a potentially business-dangerous process for them to proceed forward knowing that they are subjecting themselves to litigation if they open up and anybody contracts COVID-19,” he said to KXAN.

The park ultimately decided not to open early, Community Impact Newspaper reported.

If you can maintain social distancing, swimming is fairly low risk. My experience at water parks is that you’d be fine on most of the rides, but the lines to get to the rides will be what puts you in jeopardy. I’m also not sure how financially viable a 25%-capacity water park is, but that’s their problem, and if Schlitterbahn thinks they can make it work, they’re in a better position than I am to judge. I don’t expect to be paying them a visit this year, that much I do know.

Also, too, outdoor sporting events are back on the menu.

In a new proclamation, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that fans will be allowed at outdoor professional sporting events in most Texas counties with limited occupancy, under a new expansion of his most recent wave of economic reopenings.

Starting Friday, all Texans counties — excluding Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter and Randall counties — will be able to host in-person spectators for outdoor sports in venues as long as visitors are capped at 25% capacity. Leagues will first have to apply to — and receive approval from — the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Under the revised rule, fans are still banned from attending indoor sporting events in person. The rule does not address college or high school athletics.

[…]

The health agency’s protocols for adult recreational sports participants include a recommendation of wearing face masks during sporting events and practices, screening individuals for symptoms of COVID-19, and using and carrying hand sanitizers.

Spectators, meanwhile, are encouraged to avoid being in groups larger than 10, maintain a 6-foot distance from others when possible and wear cloth face coverings.

Regular COVID-19 testing is also recommended throughout the professional sports season.

I’d say the main effect of this is allowing recreational sports leagues to start up. High school and college sports are exempted, the NWSL will be playing only in Utah, and MLB is still a work in progress. I guess auto racing would be open to fans now as well. I will have a decision to make when the college football season starts, but I wasn’t expecting to see an Astros game any time soon except on TV. Do any of these new options appeal to you? Leave a comment and let us know.

NWSL will be the first American sports league to return to play

We’ll see how it goes.

The National Women’s Soccer League will become the first U.S. team sport to resume play June 27 with a month-long tournament in suburban Salt Lake City, and the rebuilding Houston Dash hope the unique format will give them a chance to succeed against more established rosters.

Wednesday’s announcement of the NWSL Challenge Cup gives teams four weeks to reconvene and resume training after the COVID-19 shutdown. Each of the nine teams will play four games, leading to quarterfinals, semifinals and a July 26 championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

“It’s very exciting to be the first and really important that we showcase the league and the players to the highest levels,” Dash coach James Clarkson said. “The safety of everyone is the most important thing.”

While the league will be among the first pro team sports to resume play since the coronavirus pandemic stopped games in mid-March, it could be without some high-profile players from the U.S. Soccer’s women’s national team.

At least seven players on the 23-member national team roster have said they will not participate, the Washington Post reported. Others were said to be awaiting word on testing and safety issues before committing to the tournament.

[…]

Games in Utah will be played without fans present and will be streamed on the CBS All Access subscription service. The tournament opener June 27 at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, and the July 26 championship game will air on CBS Sports.

The host Utah Royals FC will provide housing, training and game site needs for all nine teams and will create what it described as an “NWSL Village” in an effort to assure players’ health and safety.

With only nine teams, the logistics for the NWSL are a little easier than for other leagues, just because there will be fewer people involved. This is a great opportunity for the NWSL, as they will have the sports landscape to themselves for a brief period, but it’s also obviously a risk, as they could easily be the first league to then have to deal with a new coronavirus outbreak among their active players. Like it or not, by virtue of being first up, they get to be a test case for everyone else. I wish them luck. ESPN and Deadline have more.

Ching and the Dash

Good move.

A few weeks after he was sent into retirement with the first MLS testimonial match, the face of the Dynamo will attempt to build Houston’s new National Women’s Soccer League franchise.

Brian Ching will be the managing director of the NWSL’s Houston Dash. The role will be similar to a general manager’s position, but Ching’s duties will also entail being “the face of the team,” said Dynamo and Dash president Chris Canetti

“I’m excited about it,” said Ching, 35, who has an accounting degree from Gonzaga. “When I stopped playing, I didn’t think that I would be this excited about being in the front office. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to grow the Dynamo brand and make the Dash just as successful as the Dynamo both on and off the field.”

The Dash, who will play their inaugural season in 2014, begin preseason in March and play their season opener in April.

“He’ll work closely with me building this team from the ground up,” Canetti said of Ching. “I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity for him. He wants to be an MLS president one day. I think it’s awesome for the Dash as well.”

When the Comets debuted with the WNBA, they were owned by the Rockets – more specifically, by Les Alexander – but other than playing in the same building and occasionally having Rockets players attend games, there was no obvious tie in between the two franchises. The Comets wound up having enough star power on their own to establish themselves, but a little help from the better known brand never hurts. Having the most famous name from the Dynamo there in the beginning for the Dash makes all kinds of sense. I look forward to seeing who they hire to be their coach and who they get on their initial roster.

Meet the Houston Dash

They’re Houston’s newest sports team.

The Dynamo announced [Thursday] the launch of the Houston Dash, a women’s professional soccer team that will enter the National Women’s Soccer League as an expansion team for the 2014 season.

Owned and operated by the Dynamo ownership group, the Dash will begin play in April 2014 with the start of the second NWSL season, a 24-game schedule that includes 12 home games at BBVA Compass Stadium.

The NWSL is supported by the Canadian Soccer Association, Federation of Mexican Football and the United States Soccer Federation and is the top-flight women’s professional soccer league in North America, featuring many of the top players from the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as talent from around the world.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

The Dash join the league as its ninth club and first expansion team. The eight other clubs are the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash.

See here for the background. It originally looked like expansion wouldn’t happen next year, but apparently the timeline got moved up. There’s more in this story from the morning of the announcement.

The Houston women’s team will play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Sports Park. The Dynamo front office will operate the NWSL team, but the MLS and NWSL clubs will have different coaching and training staffs.

BBVA Compass Stadium sits about 22,039 for Dynamo games, but only about a third of the stadium’s seating capacity will be in use for NWSL games.

“We’ll make it a capacity of 7,000, which would be lower bowl, suites and party deck and open up the presidents club,” Canetti said of BBVA Compass Stadium. “We’ll go on sale with season tickets immediately after the announcement to Dynamo season-ticket holders.”

[…]

The Dynamo gauged interest in the NWSL a few weeks ago by asking fans to put $25 deposits on season-ticket packages for a prospective NWSL team, and more than a 1,000 fans put deposits on season tickets.

“We got over 1,000, and I think it was a powerful statement with four days and little to no promotion other than social media,” Canetti said of the season-ticket deposits. “With no name and no players, to do that type of business in four days was very positive.”

Indeed it is. I like that I will have the option to take my girls to a women’s professional sporting event in town, which had been lost to me when the Comets folded. Even better, we ought to be able to get to these games via light rail, though maybe not in the inaugural season. I don’t know that I want to be a season ticket holder, but I’ll definitely put a Dash game or two on the calendar for next summer.

Bringing the NWSL to Houston

I approve of this.

The Dynamo are in talks about securing an expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League, which features U.S. national team stars Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

The eight-team NWSL played its inaugural season in 2013 with a commitment from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican women’s national soccer federations.

“We’re involved in the initial stages of this process and hope to learn more about the league and the opportunity over the next few weeks,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti said. “I’m a firm believer in women’s athletics. I think there is a place in the sports landscape for professional women’s sports.”

[…]

The NWSL’s 22-game schedule, which consists of 11 home games and 11 road matches, lasts from April to August. Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, New Jersey and Rochester have teams in the league. Houston would be the league’s first franchise in the Southwest.

If the Dynamo finalize their quest to land an NWSL expansion club, that team would play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Amateur Sports Park, just as the men’s club does.

Houston ought to be a good fit for the league, and I’m sure the Dynamo would like to add a few extra dates to BBVA Compass’ calendar. It currently looks like expansion is a no go for 2014, so don’t look for this next season. Maybe by the time this is all worked out the Dynamo (and the Rockets and the Astros) will be broadcast on a channel that’s available to all of Houston. We can dream, right?