Canadian goalkeeper Erin MacLeod smiles every time she enters the field to train with the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Football League, although she never imagined that she would play in such circumstances.
The NWSL announced this week that it will resume playing the 25-game tournament next month, making it the first North American team sport to return to competition during the coronavirus pandemic.
“My first reaction was:“ I love to play, ”said McLeod, a Canadian national warrior at four women’s soccer world championships and two Olympic games, winning bronze in London in 2012.“ Health is the main thing for everyone, and now I am pleased to know that it is possible to play in competitions while in a truly safe environment.
“I was incredibly impressed with the medical aspect and attention to detail. Of course, there are many mixed emotions, but if you know me, I feel like I’m five years old again. I am always happy to play football when I can. ”
The 37-year-old native of St. Alberta, Alta, is one of 16 Canadians who trade in the NWSL of nine teams. Among others are longtime stars of the national team, Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash) and Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott (Utah Royals).
The Challenge Cup, which runs from June 27 to July 26, will allow all teams to stay and play at venues on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah. Each team will play four games in the group stage, with the eight best teams continuing to play in a single qualifier format. The games will be televised and broadcast by CBS and its affiliates on the Internet and broadcasts. And, like most professional sports returning, there will be no fans at the game stands.
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All players and team personnel will be checked for COVID-19 before leaving for Utah, and will then be checked regularly. The league covers the cost of a trip to Utah for 28 players and seven employees from each team, and negotiations are underway for five substitutions per match to combat fatigue.
Players may opt out of the tournament if they are worried about their safety. There are salary and insurance guarantees for all players – regardless of whether they play or not.
After being shut down on March 11, like the rest of the sports world, NWSL and its commissioner Lisa Baird, a player association and a task force of 15 doctors developed a robust protocol for returning to the game.
Last week, it expanded through training in small groups, when any player or staff is tested before participating. A maximum of eight players can be present at a time. Players have a fixed time of arrival, they must wear their masks at the entrance and undergo screening for symptoms and temperature. Trainers, sports trainers, sports scientists, team doctors and equipment managers can be primary staff. Everything is cleared before and after each session.
“It’s not too different, except that three quarters of your team went missing,” MacLeod said with a laugh. “Given everything, I think this club has done a really good job, supporting as much normality as possible.”
After the team has completed five days of training in small groups, they can proceed to the full training of the team from Saturday, using the same precautions.
Perhaps no one is happier on the field right now than Macleod. She returned to NWSL, having spent the last few seasons in Europe with various clubs in Germany and Sweden.
Last year was difficult for her due to injuries. Due to a leg injury, she did not qualify for a place in the 2019 Canadian FIFA women’s team. It was initially thought to be plantar fasciitis, but was later diagnosed as tunnel tunnel syndrome, which caused severe pain and swelling in the leg.
“I am so grateful that I can walk without experiencing such pain. I think the only thing this virus made you think about is that there are no guarantees. Therefore, every day I appear in training and put on shoes, I am so grateful for this moment. ”
While COVID-19 was the main concern, so was the general health of the players, including the possibility of increased injuries.
This is a busy schedule, and teams have only five weeks to prepare for it. Teams can play as many as seven games in 29 days. On average, there will be three days of rest between games.
Players expressed concern about the tight deadlines and the fact that almost all games will be played on artificial turf at Zions Bank Stadium. The semi-finals and finals will take place on grass at Rio Tinto Stadium, where members of Utah Royals reside.
A month before the start of the exhibition, MacLeod is pleased to meet his teammates.
“Everyone was very welcoming and very professional. It’s nice to be a new baby, you know, a little nervous, not knowing where you fit. I think it’s good to feel these things from time to time, ”she says. he said.
“This is such a unique circumstance. Optimally, if you want to assemble a team, as well as rely on being calculated, safe and smart. Many people have not played for about a year. I expect to see a lot of growth of game to game after the start of the tournament. ”
As for whether Canadian football fans can see MacLeod add 118 matches to his team, maybe even at the Tokyo Olympics next summer, it’s in the air. She is one of four goalkeepers in a talented group that includes Kylen Sheridan, Sabrina D’Angelo and Stephanie Labbe. MacLeod says she takes it day by day.
“Right now, I’m being considered an option,” she said of Tokyo. “The Olympics was such a big part of my heart, my passion, my drive, but I’m in a place where I spent time, I did a lot of things that I’m very proud of, so what is happening from now on is just frosting on the cake. I would like to go, who would not want to go.
“If I could put the maple leaf on my chest again, I would definitely be for it.”