US women’s stars Rapinoe, Heath, Press to skip NWSL tournament

Los Angeles (AFP) – Megan Rapinoe and two of her US teammates from last year’s Women’s World Cup champions have opted out of the National Women’s Soccer League tournament that begins Saturday in Utah.

OL Reign forward Rapinoe, Portland Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath and Utah Royals striker Christen Press withdrew from the event, with Press and Heath citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic that put the NWSL season on hiatus.

Eight of nine league clubs will meet for matches and playoffs in suburban Salt Lake City but the Orlando Pride decided not to compete after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti said earlier this month Rapinoe would not play due to reservations about the spread of the virus and fears over the compressed schedule.

“Megan let us know that she has decided not play in the tournament… we understand and respect her decision,” OL Reign chief executive Bill Predmore said. “We’ve had to find ways to win without Megan in the past and are ready to do so again at the Challenge Cup.”

Heath was cautious about the deadly virus pandemic, which has been on the increase in Utah in recent days.

“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 in the NWSL Challenge Cup,” Heath said.

Thorns general manager and president Gavin Wilkinson said, “We support and respect Tobin’s decision regarding the tournament.”

Press will sit while her teammates compete at the Royals’ home ground.

“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.

“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, including our selfless and heroic first responders. I look forward to supporting my teammates during the tournament.”

Royals general manager Stephanie Lee said, “We will miss Christen’s presence at the tournament both on and off the field. Regardless, we respect her decision.”

After a group stage through July 13 to decide seedings, the NWSL quarter-finals will be played July 17-18 with the semi-finals on July 22 and the championship match on July 26.

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