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National Women's Soccer League to begin season in Utah in June

Rick Bowmer, File
The Associated Press
In this 2014 file photo, members of the U.S. Women's National team practice at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The National Women's Soccer League plans to start a 25-game tournament next month in two Utah stadiums, without fans, amid the pandemic.

Good news for OL Reign fans. It looks like the National Women's Soccer League will be the first professional sports organization in the country to return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about the plan to have all teams play in Utah starting at the end of June.


“The National Women's Soccer League never got a chance to start their season before the shutdown happened in mid-March that closed basically all sports,” Thiel said. “So they're going to revive by creating a tournament in one location starting June 27 for a month, playing 25 games to the Challenge Cup championship.

“They're condensing everything into one place at one time to see if they can draw some national attention to the game because nothing else is going on, in terms of competition with other sports."

The tournament will be played in two stadiums in the Salt Lake City area. Athletes and everyone else associated with the games will be housed in two hotels.


Thiel said there are still questions and concerns about how coronavirus testing will work.

"The protocols aren't exactly clear but they do promise to do a lot of testing before the athletes arrive in Salt Lake during the training camp, which would begin sometime in June," Thiel said. "It's only nine teams. It's 300 players and probably 500 coaches and support staff and officials. So the ability to test that small cohort and get results back quickly is much higher in this sport than the others.”


“This tournament is going to be unique because it is voluntary,” Thiel continued. “That means that stars like Megan Rapinoe and the other members of the U.S. Women's National Team that rose to such acclaim in their World Cup victory in 2019 may opt out.

“The reason they want to opt out is basically for reasons of health. Both stadiums are on artificial surfaces and soccer players really don't like turf because the incidence of injury is greater. It's harder on the legs. And then there's also still the question of how good the protocol is going to be for testing.”


Thiel pointed out that players who don't participate will still be paid and receive benefits.

“The owners can afford to do this because the salaries aren't huge and they really do want to take advantage of this window.

"There is no union with negotiating leverage in women's soccer. There's an association, but they don't have to get the approval. And really, there's no need for a union to weigh in because this is going to be voluntary.

“It's probably the most efficient and effective proposal that I've heard from pro sports leagues. But there are still questions around how effective the testing is going to be and whether some of the stars are going to participate.”

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel with iTunes orGoogle Play now. You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.