US_Women-Equal_Pay_Soccer_91934

Megan Rapinoe, shown posing with her individual awards at the end of the Women’s World Cup in 2019, has decided not to participate in the NWSL relaunch, which opens on Saturday in Utah. Francisco Seco/Associated Press

 

Megan Rapinoe and U.S. World Cup teammates Tobin Heath and Christen Press have opted out of the National Women’s Soccer League tournament starting this weekend, the first U.S. team sport to resume competition since the pandemic-forced shutdown.

Rapinoe, the star of the national team’s championship last summer in France, did not immediately offer a reason Tuesday, when her club, OL Reign, announced its roster for the event. She has not practiced with the team since the league’s training moratorium was lifted this month.

“Megan let us know that she has decided not (to) play in the tournament,” Reign chief executive Bill Predmore said in a written statement. “Like all NWSL players, she was given the option to participate. … We understand and respect her decision.”

Rapinoe’s decision was not a surprise. Early this month, Reign Coach Farid Benstiti told French publication Le Progres that Rapinoe would sit out.

“It’s a shame,” Benstiti said. “I understand her motivations, but I am disappointed and frustrated.”

Press (Utah Royals) and Heath (Portland Thorns) were clear with their reasons.

“It is deeply painful not to be able to play the game I love, and to watch the broader effects of the global pandemic on our league, sports and our world,” Press said in a written statement. “Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this tournament.

“I know how fortunate I am to be able to make this choice. I have enormous respect and gratitude for those who do not have the luxury to choose whether to report to work.”

Heath echoed those sentiments, saying, “Although I want to be on the field with my teammates doing what I love, because of the uncertainty and risks created by COVID-19, I have chosen not to participate.”

Several other national team players will not participate, but for other reasons.

Sky Blue FC’s Carli Lloyd (knee) and Mallory Pugh (hip) are injured. Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Emily Sonnett are members of the Orlando Pride, which on Monday withdrew from the tournament after six players and four staff members tested positive for the novel coronavirus. (Morgan would not have played anyway after giving birth last month.)

Most U.S. national team players are not employed by the league or its teams. Rather, they are under contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation, which subsidizes the NWSL. Under an agreement between the USSF and the national team players’ union, they will continue to be paid, whether or not they play in the tournament.

All other NWSL players, through a separate union, have a similar agreement with the league.

As of midday Tuesday, the Chicago Red Stars, which features three U.S. World Cup players, were the only team yet to announce their tournament roster.

The absence of several stars is a setback to a league seeking to take advantage of the void in live team sports. The Challenge Cup will open Saturday in greater Salt Lake City and run until July 26.

Orlando’s withdrawal has forced the league to rework the schedule. Each team is slated to play four first-round matches, followed by a knockout stage.

CBS will show the opening match Saturday afternoon (North Carolina vs. Portland), as well as the final. Never before has a U.S. women’s soccer league game appeared on over-the-air national TV. CBS’s digital platform will show all of the other matches. No spectators will be allowed at the two stadiums in use (in suburban Herriman and Sandy, Utah).

MLS will relaunch July 8 with a 26-team tournament near Orlando.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: