Why I'm worried about the Orlando Pride amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
I think it's fair to say that 2020 has been a pretty tumultuous year for everyone associated with women's soccer, but no team has felt the devastation of Covid-19 more than the Orlando Pride. At least in terms of the NWSL. The NWSL Challenge Cup went ahead in Utah and was a rip-roaring success. I had the immense priviledge of covering the tournament for 'The NWSL Show'. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience; getting to watch some of the best players in the NWSL, go toe to toe with one another was a wonder to behold. There was one particularly bitter caveat though. The Orlando Pride weren't there.
Now, there's no point in crying over spilled milk. I covered the fallout over 'bargate'. It's not something I wish to rehash in all honesty. But there can be no denying that these are uncertain times for the Orlando Pride. It's been 297 days since the Orlando Pride last took to the field. 297 days. For context, this site didn't exist the last time an Orlando Pride player kicked a ball in anger. I have yet to cover a game. It's disconcerting, terrifying, worrying. Heck, all of the above. We are not impervious to the economic ramifications of Covid-19.
If reports are to be believed, the NWSL is still a way off resuming its 'regular season'. Obviously this will be no regular season, but you take my point. Steven Goff of the Washington Post recently tweeted out that NWSL teams are set to resume workouts on August the 17th, in their individual markets. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean full team training. Many states have Covid-19 restrictions in place that may well prevent this from occuring. The resumption of workouts is, reportedly, to prepare teams for possible exhibition games or tournaments. Anything, really. Who knows? This situation is constantly evolving.
As such, it's difficult to tell what's next for this team. Particularly as the NWSL itself faces a particularly challenging crossroad. Conditions for women's soccer have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, for better and for worse. At least as far as the NWSL is concerned. The threat of the FAWSL and other big European leagues is very much a real and concerning issue. Players were already having their heads turned by some of the bigger name European teams before the outbreak. Just look at Sam Kerr's recent transfer to Chelsea. Now, with uncertainty looming over the league more and more players are looking at Europe as a viable option.
Whatever your thoughts on the United States' handling of this pandemic, the facts remain that the conditions are far safer in Europe right now. Some of the NWSL's best players are now ripe for the picking as the league sweats on its future. Manchester City are closing on a short term deal for Rose Lavelle. Our very own Claire Emslie has, reportedly, joined Everton on a similar deal. And we already know that Ali Riley has returned to Sweden. We run the risk of losing more players, which could undo all of the great recruitment work the team did during the off-season.
Now, you might say these are only short term deals, so there's nothing to worry about. But to be completely frank, such a mindset is ignorant at best. We all love this league, as such we don't want to see it lose any of its big stars. Economically speaking the league is in a delicate position right now. So a drop off in quality is potentially ruinous. Especially at a time when the league is growing exponentially with the addition of Racing Louisville and the Natalie Portman backed Angel City. We need the biggest names in the league.
There is also a lot of uncertainty surrounding this Orlando Pride squad specifically. Hypothetically speaking, let's just imagine that NWSL does resume this season. We will be without Ali Riley, Claire Emslie and now Erin Greening after she was waived this week. There are no guarantees the rest of this squad will want to compete. Alex Morgan would be a prime example. She has a young family now. Is she going to want to take any unnecessary risks with regards to the Coronavirus? Probably not, and who could blame her?
I realise, at least to a certain extent, that this piece is somewhat hyperbolic. We simply do not have enough information to really know what the future holds for Orlando Pride. And, to me, that's a rather disconcerting notion. It's been 297 days since the Orlando Pride last played a game, and we do not know when the next game will be. Attendances have been falling in Orlando for a while. That might upset some people, but it's a fact. We have a wonderful hardcore fanbase, but this team runs the risk of becoming alienated from the more casual fan.
This season promised so much, especially when you look at the acquisitions we made during the season. This point is strengthened exponentially by the fact that an unfancied team, in the Houston Dash, won the NWSL Challenge Cup. The tournament represented a real missed opportunity for this team. I'm now seriously concerned that we won't see the Pride this calendar year. And that worries me.