Soccer

NWSL fingerprints all over U.S. Women's National Soccer Team at Rio Olympics

NWSL fingerprints all over U.S. Women's National Soccer Team at Rio Olympics

CSN Mid-Atlantic's Sebastian Salazar is at the Rio Olympics covering the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. He'll be sharing regular updates from Brazil via CSNmidatlantic.com and on Twitter (@SebiSalazarCSN) and Facebook (facebook.com/SebiSalazarCSN). 

With 17 of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 18 Olympians playing professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League, there’s little arguing that the league has had a vast impact on U.S. Head Coach Jill Ellis’s squad.

But the league’s true value is perhaps best catalogued on an individual basis. Each player is capable of offering their own testimony of the role the U.S. domestic league has played in their career.

The Washington Spirit’s Crystal Dunn turned the disappointment of being left off last summer’s World Cup team into an league-MVP campaign, but without the NWSL, the young striker wouldn’t have had an obvious showcase to prove to the U.S. staff what they’d missed out on.

“It gave me a platform when I wanted to be at the World Cup but couldn’t,” Dunn said the day before making her Olympic debut against New Zealand. “It provided me a stage where I could perform and show people that I’m a high-caliber player.”

While Dunn’s story is a great illustration of the role the NWSL can play in both a player’s career and the U.S. coaching staff’s player identification process, perhaps the perfect poster child for the league is Allie Long. In just the last year, the Portland Thorns midfielder has risen from the far periphery of the U.S. player pool to a starting spot at the Rio Olympics.

Long credits the league’s daily competition with making her a better player.

"There’s never really an easy game,” Long told reporters at the U.S. team hotel in Belo Horizonte. “If there’s a large score it’s usually not because the competition is easy - it’s just because the finishing was on point that day.”

“I think the NWSL has been huge,” Long added. “I’m so grateful that it’s been around and that it happened at the right time.”

Now in its fourth year, the NWSL has lasted longer than any of the other iterations of women’s professional soccer in the United States. But that’s not to say the previous leagues didn’t have an impact on the national team and some of the of the current U.S. side’s more established stars.

“I’m really kind of a baby of WPS,” said U.S. co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who played for the Washington Freedom and magicJack of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer. “That was when [U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage] was at the helm and I was gone for two years trying to work my way back in. I needed a platform where I could play at a high level day in and day out.”

If WPS helped launch Sauerbrunn’s international career, playing in the NWSL has allowed the central defender to take her game to the next level. The 31-year-old veteran likens the style she plays with FC Kansas City to that of the national team. 

“FC Kansas City prides themselves on keeping the ball and being dynamic in how they get into the attacking third,” Sauerbrunn said. “It’s really helped me to be more confident on the ball and also to see more spaces on the field that I normally haven’t looked at before.”

In addition to its impact on the individual, the NWSL has also played a role in the U.S. team’s overall readiness for Rio. The league’s steadily competitive environment prepares players for the grind of what could be six games over a 16-day stretch.

“[The NWSL] has prepared us for where we are right here,” Dunn noted. “Every game is intense so the nine [league] games we played before we got here were really great for us.”

The U.S. rounds out group play on Tuesday night against Colombia in Manaus, the most populous city of the Amazon rainforest. Kickoff is slated for 6 P.M. ET on NBCSN.

FC Dallas withdraws from MLS is Back tournament after 10 positive COVID-19 tests

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FC Dallas withdraws from MLS is Back tournament after 10 positive COVID-19 tests

FC Dallas has withdrawn from the MLS is Back tournament in Florida after 10 players tested positive for coronavirus.

The league said Monday that of the 557 players sequestered at a pair of Walt Disney World hotels, 13 have tested positive: 10 from Dallas, two from Nashville and one from Columbus. Additionally, a Dallas coach also tested positive.

“The decision to have them not participate in the tournament is in the best interests of everyone, of the Dallas players and the other 25 teams, and allows us to continue to manage the health and safety of our players while continuing to go forward with our plan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday.

Apart from the health and safety aspect, the number of positive cases also meant that Dallas could not play competitive games.

“As we continue to focus on the well-being of our players, coaches and staff who are in isolation in Orlando, we understand it is not in their best interests to compete at this time,” coach Luchi Gonzalez said in a statement. “While we’re disappointed, the health and safety of our traveling delegation as well as our league partners is our highest priority.”

FC Dallas announced last week that six players had tested positive upon arrival in Florida for the tournament, and the entire team was quarantined. As a result, the team’s opening match on Thursday against the Vancouver Whitecaps was postponed.

RELATED: WHEN ARE SPORTS RETURNING FROM CORONAVIRUS

With Dallas' withdrawal, Major League Soccer was devising a new schedule for the monthlong tournament, to be played without fans at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.

The tournament is still set to open Wednesday with a nationally televised match between Orlando City and expansion Inter Miami.

Also on Monday, LAFC forward Carlos Vela opted out of the tournament out of concerns for his wife, who is expecting their second child.

“I always want to give everything I have to my club, our fans and supporters and the city of L.A.,” Vela said in a statement. “However, it is in the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy."

MLS shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 after teams had each played two games.

Garber vowed to stop the tournament if warranted.

“If there is a situation at any time that I believe that the protocols aren't working, and the health and safety of our players is at risk, then I will make the decision to shut down the tournament," Garber said. "That is something I committed to the players and to our entire league early on. But this is proving that our protocols worked and our plan so far has been sound.”

FC Dallas previously revealed that all players and staff tested negative for the coronavirus before leaving for the tournament on June 27. Upon arrival, two players tested positive. Subsequent tests found four more players infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We absolutely agree with the league’s decision to withdraw FC Dallas from the MLS is Back Tournament out of safety concerns for our players and staff,” FC Dallas President Dan Hunt said. “We’re looking forward to resuming the 2020 season once the entire club is healthy and in position to play competitive matches at the highest level.”

The league said no other team was in contact with the FC Dallas delegation. League protocol requires players and staff to be tested every two days upon arrival in Florida.

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Washington DC launches bid to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches

Washington DC launches bid to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches

It’s still six years out, but Washington, D.C. is making a push to bring the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the nation’s capital.

With North America selected as the location of choice for the 2026 World Cup rather than one country in particular, D.C. officials announced Tuesday their intention to make Washington one of the 16 host cities for the 80-match tournament.

“Right now, as countries around the world continue to respond to this pandemic, the 2026 FIFA World Cup is something we can all look forward to,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement. “And when the tournament comes to North America, it only makes sense for DC — the Sports Capital and District of Champions — to host. We are already a city united by the game, and in 2026, we look forward to uniting the world.”

According to The Washington Post, 10 cities from the U.S. are expected to land matches for the tournament with Canada and Mexico splitting the other six. It will be the first time in World Cup history that the tournament will be shared by more than two countries.

The District established a group called DC2026, which announced a 40-member advisory board that includes D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, three-time MLS champion Eddie Pope, Washington Spirit stars Joanna Lohman and Andi Sullivan, two-time gold medalist Brianna Scurry, EventsDC chairman Max Brown, chef José Andrés and D.C. United general partner Gregory O’Dell.

“As a native Washingtonian, I am proud to be a Co-Chair of DC’s official bid committee to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” Hamid said in a statement. “I could not think of a more vibrant, inclusive or passionate soccer city to host FIFA World Cup matches in 2026. With our deep soccer roots and diversity, the culture of our city gives us our foundation to successfully highlight the matches and leave a lasting impact on the future of the game.”

DC2026 plans to tout D.C.’s “unparalleled roots to the sport of soccer and world-class hosting capabilities” as part of its pitch. In a three-page press release, the group laid out advantages such as the metro system and three local airports that would allow it to host the increased number of tourists.

The city last hosted the World Cup in 1994, when it made RFK Stadium one of nine U.S. venues for the tournament. It’s also held Olympic soccer games (1996) as well as the 1999 and 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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