Gutted. Worried. Disappointed. Angry. It’s safe to say the last 48 hours has been a whirlwind of emotions.
We all know how much I love the Orlando Pride. Christ, I think you’re all sick of me banging on about them on The NWSL Show. (If not, then go and listen back to Eps 1-4 to get acclimatised!) But my love for them feels somewhat tainted currently.
On Monday the news broke that the Orlando Pride were voluntarily withdrawing from the NWSL’s Challenge Cup, less than a week before the tournament was scheduled to get underway. Following the news that six players and four members of Orlando’s staff tested positive for COVID-19, the tournament’s schedule was thrown into turmoil. Thankfully the league’s rigorous preparations came to fruition, and a revised schedule was released just 24 hours later, now featuring just eight NWSL sides.
The show will go on for many in Utah, this coming Saturday. However not for all. Firstly, all of us at The NWSL Show wish the Orlando Pride’s affected players and staff a safe and speedy recovery. I also want to take a moment to spare a thought for the remainder of the team. Club captain Ashlyn Harris shared how she is having to sleep on the opposite side of her home to wife and co-captain, Ali Krieger. Sydney Leroux has had an added worry of keeping her two young children and husband - Orlando City forward, Dom Dwyer safe. Toni Pressley is a breast cancer survivor. Claire Emslie is just one of Orlando’s many international players who fought to get back to the USA in time to attend the NWSL Challenge Cup. The list goes on, the sacrifices go on. Whilst we may never know who is to blame (and honestly at this point, I don’t think I want to know), the people responsible must be held accountable. Not just for the danger they’ve put their families and colleagues in, but the emotional and psychological impact their actions have had on so many people involved with the game we all love.
And so, my concern for the welfare of the NWSL’s players and staff turns to anger. Just 4% of sports reporting covers women’s football, yet all of a sudden all eyes are on the NWSL. Major media outlets fail to acknowledge that the NWSL is the first major American League to return to play on June 27th, yet they’re some of the first to run stories about the Pride’s shock departure from the tournament. These outlets won’t provide a positive platform for the NWSL and for women’s football on the whole - instead, focussing on the damning stories. A night out at a bar, as legal and innocuous as it will have seemed at the time, has had such damaging impacts on Orlando Pride, the NWSL and women’s sport in America on the whole. Unquantifiable financial impacts, a breakdown in trust and relationships between players. The list goes on. So yeah, I’m pissed.
However now isn’t the time to start a witch-hunt. Instead, let’s support those players who worked so hard to get to this tournament. Let’s celebrate them as if they were in attendance. Let’s use this tournament to really drive the growth of women’s soccer. All eyes are on the NWSL. Let’s make it a tournament to remember for all the right reasons.
By Hannah Inglis