First at the bar, first out of the Challenge Cup. The Orlando Pride story
On Monday evening (22nd July), the Orlando Pride became the first NWSL club to exit the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. Before they had even kicked a ball in anger. The team released a statement announcing their withdrawal from the Utah based tournament, after 6 players and 4 support staff unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19. Thankfully, all concerned are currently a symptomatic. And we here at the English Lion sincerely hope that remains the case.
The news probably wasn't all that shocking to anyone who is following the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. With over 11,000 new positve cases being confirmed over the last few days, Florida has seemingly begun to establish itself as the new epi-centre for this abhorrent disease. The announcement would have been a huge blow to the league, which already faces the prospect of several big name international stars backing out of the tournament. Now, the league has the ardous task of rearranging an entire schedule, just days before the tournament is scheduled to kick off.
This unfortunate turn of events would not have been how Lisa Baird imagined this week going. Whilst this news will have been bad enough, the way the breakout possibly transpired will have been even more of a gut punch to the NWSL's new commissioner. Reports emerging minutes after the announcement (with the Athletic's Meg Linehan being first past the post) indicated that the outbreak may possibly be attributed to an intra squad outing to a local bar. It's worth noting, at this point, that visits to bars are perfectly legal in the state of Florida just now. But does that mean that the players should be visiting such a place, given the current state of affairs in the Sunshine State? And with the NWSL Challenge Cup right around the corner? I would argue not.
At this point, I would like to stress, it's important to acknowledge these are hitherto unconfirmed reports. At least at the time of writing. And the Orlando Pride organisation and fanbase will surely be hoping there is, indeed, smoke without fire here. Given that the amount of positive Covid-19 cases in the state, and Orange County in particular, are rising exponentially, these alleged actions should be considered reckless at best. It wouldn't be the first time this club has encountered issues with its players frequenting such establishments. But to do so, in an area with such high levels of infections, shortly before entering into a league wide bubble would simply be irresponsible and incredibly egocentric. I sincerely hope these reports turn out to be false.
Over recent years, the Pride have experienced more than their fair share of issues with professionalism in the dressing room. And it honestly looked like the team had addressed those concerns, with the acquisitions made during the off-season coupled with the responsibilities assigned to the likesmof Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris. Marc Skinner and the Orlando hierarchy will face some tough questions over the coming days. Skinner may even face questions over his future. Particularly following on from his bizarre roster calls prior to the tournament. With the expulsion of the lively Marisa Viggiano mystifying many observers. What is for certain though, the Orlando Pride are staying home. And that's a crying shame for us all.