Update 5:30 p.m. 6/22/20:
Meg Linehan of The Athletic — in a story with contributions from Paul Tenorio — has reported that the one NWSL player who tested positive four days ago was a member of the Orlando Pride and that Pride players triggered additional COVID-19 testing by going to a bar, eventually leading to Orlando’s — and the league’s — first known positive test result.
The Athletic understands that the original positive test result was identified thanks to testing that went above the standard NWSL protocols. With the positive result, Orlando stopped full-team training sessions, performed the required contact tracing and players went through increased testing.
Sources tell The Athletic that multiple players visited a bar in Orlando that prompted the additional testing, which ultimately led to the first positive result.
If The Athletic’s sources are correct — and this is a media outlet and a pair of writers with the utmost integrity — it is a staggeringly display of poor judgment on the part of all players involved. And that poor judgment has likely erased any opportunity to see the Pride play in the 2020 calendar year.
We will continue to monitor this story for further developments.
Our original story:
The Orlando Pride announced this afternoon that the team is withdrawing from the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup after multiple players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. The league sent out a press release stating that six players and four staff members had tested positive. The NWSL reported its first positive test for COVID-19 just four days ago but did not name the player or the team.
The Pride were supposed to begin the Challenge Cup on Saturday night against the Chicago Red Stars at Zion Bank Stadium in Utah. While following guidelines by the CDC and in collaboration with the club’s medical team at Orlando Health, the team provided tests for all players and staff. While the club didn’t state how many people tested positive, there were positive tests. Per the club’s statement, all of those who tested positive were 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,” Pride Executive Vice President Amanda Duffy said about the decision. “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.”
The Pride recently moved into their newly-renovated training facility at Sylvan Lake Park. As such, Pride players were not in contact with Orlando City, Orlando City B, or the club’s academy players, who train miles away in Kissimmee. Though the club stated in its press release that Pride players were not in contact with OCSC, OCB, or academy players, it’s unknown if that simply means at the training facility or if it also includes a lack of contact outside of the training facility. (Pride forward Sydney Leroux is married to Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer, for example, though we do not know if Leroux is one of the six players or if even she was directly exposed).
The Sylvan Lake Park training facility has now been closed to undergo a thorough cleaning and sterilization. In accordance with CDC guidelines, all players and staff that tested positive will go into self-isolation for at least 14 days.
“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,” Pride team doctor Daryl Osbahr, M.D. said. “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.”
Earlier today, Steven Goff of the Washington Post reported that the NWSL is not planning to have a regular season after the Challenge Cup competition.
The league has not announced plans to start the regular season in home markets late this summer or in the fall, but one person close to the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the outlook could change, said “more likely than not” the tournament will serve as the only formal competition this year.
“The only way [the NWSL] plays the regular season,” the person added, “is if there is a path to opening stadiums for [a large number of] fans, and that’s pretty low.”
If the league indeed ends up not having a regular season in 2020 due to the financial necessity of having fans in the seats, withdrawing from the tournament means the Pride will not be taking the field this calendar year in any competitive games.
Today’s news comes one day after the Pride announced roster moves ahead of the scheduled NWSL Challenge Cup roster release, and just hours after the league announced Challenge Cup rules and regulations.
If the Pride aren’t going to play at all in 2020, we’ve likely seen the last of several players in an Orlando uniform, as there will likely be personnel changes in the off-season.