Officially, the first pro team sports league to return in the United States from the coronavirus pandemic is slated to be the NWSL, which will hold the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah beginning June 27.
North Carolina Courage star Crystal Dunn, one of the few players who can claim to be both a current world champion and current league champion right now, spoke to Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s SportsCenter special Monday, discussing the coming reopening of a variety of team sports.
While the NWSL was not originally slated to be on the SportsCenter special, an outcry from fans on social media apparently worked, as Dunn was a late invitee to the proceedings.
And she touted NWSL being the first league back.
“I think it’s incredible,” Dunn said. “I think it’s also so amazing that it’s a women’s team that is first to come back and play, and I think the Challenge Cup is going to be an incredible platform for us to promote the game, and for everyone to just see how women can play this sport.”
The Challenge Cup, which will be the NWSL’s only competition in 2020, will feature all nine teams playing four preliminary matches, with the top eight qualifiers advancing to the knockout stage. The tournament final is scheduled for July 26, the entire tournament taking place in Utah.
Two of Dunn’s U.S. Women’s National Team teammates, Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press, have been reported they will not be participating in the Challenge Cup. Players — who are guaranteed full pay for the season — have the option of opting out of the tournament, and Dunn said she supported Rapinoe’s decision, when asked directly about it.
“This is definitely up to the individual, I think a lot of people are nervous of the virus as well as the demands for this tournament. We had a short preseason and going into a tournament-style format is going to be tough. This was a decision that each individual was allowed to make, and I, as her teammate, stand behind her, and I think it’s great that she knew what she wanted to do and she wanted to take some time off and train on her own and get herself ready. So I think that’s great, everyone has that option.”
While the prospect of being in a bubble tournament carries differing appeal for players, Dunn appeared to look at the bright side of the situation, making sacrifices to be able to play again with the pandemic still happening in the United States.
“It was brought to us as basically an Olympic-kind of village, safety bubble. I think it’ll be fun, in some small way you’ll be very isolated, you only have your teammates to hang out with but that is exactly what we need in order to make sure that everyone’s staying safe, and that the guidelines are being followed. It’s going to be an interesting month but everyone’s willing to do it if it means that we’re staying safe and we’re keeping each other safe.”
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