NWSL Challenge Cup is first North American team sport to resume after COVID-19 arrival

By Official Florida FC

Pro sports are back!

After more than three months of empty stadia amid a global pandemic, North American team sports have returned.

The National Women’s Soccer League got the party started on Saturday with two-time defending league champion North Carolina Courage facing the Portland Thorns in the inaugural match of the NWSL Challenge Cup. The month-long tournament featured 23 games and eight of the nine teams in the NWSL.

The league’s only Florida-based club, the Orlando Pride, withdrew from the tournament on June 22 after 10 players and staff reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

Every member of the starting XI for both teams took a knee during the playing of the national anthem and wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts during pregame warmups.

The May 25 killing of George Floyd following an encounter with the Minneapolis Police Department has spurred NWSL teams and players to clamor for social justice and advocate for the lives and advancement of Black people.

Moments after North Carolina and Portland kicked off, the teams released a joint statement.

“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against black people and people of color in Amerca,” the clubs wrote. “We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard. It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”

On the pitch, North Carolina won the NWSL Challenge Cup kickoff match 2-1. Brazilian international Debinha scored the openner in the 75th minute, Portland forward Simone Charley scored her first NWSL goal in the 80th minute and American international Lynn Williams headed the winner in stoppage time.

In Saturday’s second match, the Washington Spirit defeated 2019 NWSL runner-up Chicago Red Stars 2-1.

Red Stars fullback, and former Florida State star, Casey Short shared an emotional moment with her teammate Julie Ertz during the playing of the national anthem.

Short did not mention what moved her to tears during the anthem; however, in a June 5 Twitter post Short wrote racism must be addressed “…and there are countless ways to help push for change whether it’s marching on the front lines in a protest or calling out a relative and having a tough conversation behind closed doors.”

Short is one of more than a half-dozen players competing in the NWSL Challenge Cup with ties to Florida. Washington Spirit midfielder Meggie Howard– who is from Largo and played at the University of Florida– played 25 minutes in Saturday’s opener.

The challenge cup may be without United States women’s national team stars like Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Tobin Heath; but, the first North American sports league to return after the COVID-19 pandemic has plenty of star power and international players to command attention.

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