Christine Sinclair leads the list of 14 Canadians taking part in the eight-team NWSL Challenge Cup, which kicks off Saturday in Utah.
The NWSL season was originally slated to start April 18 but has been on hold due to the global pandemic. Still, it is the first North American pro league out of the blocks, despite the loss of one team on the eve of the 23-game tournament.
The Orlando Pride, whose roster includes Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod and defender Shelina Zadorsky, withdrew Monday after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
Each team named its 28-woman roster Tuesday. Canada is represented on all eight squads.
The Canadian contingent has a combined 1,155 caps for their country. McLeod and Zadorsky would have added another 184 caps.
Forward Evelyne Viens (Sky Blue FC) and defender Bianca St-Georges (Chicago Red Stars) are uncapped. Viens, a prolific scorer from the University of South Florida, was taken in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2020 NWSL draft while St-Georges, a former Canada under-20 captain, went in the third round (20th overall) of the 2019 draft from West Virginia University.
The opening match pits the defending champion North Carolina Courage against Sinclair’s Portland Thorns FC.
Each club will play three games before the field is seeded for the knockout quarterfinals. The knockout rounds run July 17 to 26.
The matches will be played at Zions Bank Stadium, except for the semifinals and final which will be played on the Utah Royals’ home field at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The players will be sequestered in facilities used by the Royals and MLS’s Real Salt Lake, including a stadium and several training fields. Players and support staff will be housed either in complex dormitories or at a hotel.
Players electing to skip the tournament include U.S. internationals Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Tobin Health (Portland Thorns) and Christen Press (Utah).
“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 in a statement.
Press echoed those words.
“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,” she wrote. “Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this tournament.”
Sky Blue FC star Carli Lloyd will miss the tournament via a knee injury.
Goalkeeper Devin Kerr is included in the Washington Spirit roster. Born in Toronto, Kerr was raised in Barrie, Ont., and represented Canada at the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica.
But since then, the 23-year-old Ohio State product has been part of the U.S. national team program — at the under-19, -20 and -23 levels.
Canadians in NWSL Challenge Cup (with Canada cap count)
Chicago Red Stars: Bianca St-Georges (0).
Houston Dash: Allysha Chapman (75), Maegan Kelly (6), Nichelle Prince (59) and Sophie Schmidt (199).
North Carolina Courage: Lindsay Agnew (14), Stephanie Labbe (72).
OL Reign: Rebecca Quinn (59).
Portland Thorns: Christine Sinclair (296).
Sky Blue FC: Kailen Sheridan (9), Evelyne Viens (0).
Utah Royals FC: Diana Matheson (206), Desiree Scott (156).
Washington Spirit: Jenna Hellstrom (4).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press