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Soccer

NWSL Challenge Cup Proceeds to Knockout Round

July 16, 2020
BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: The NWSL was the first North American pro team league to return to play. And now, they’re the first league to start their playoffs as they move on to the knockout round of the Challenge Cup. Thank goodness for women’s sports.

Who’s moving on?: Everyone! The eight-team knockout stage (aka lose-one-and-done playoffs) starting tomorrow originally would have seen one team not make the cut, but since the Orlando Pride pulled out of the tournament, all eight teams made it, effectively making the group stage all about seeding.

  • For the knockout round, teams are seeded based on their group stage results with the undefeated North Carolina Courage taking the number one spot. As the top team, they’ll now face the last place team, Portland Thorns FC (FC stands for Football Club), after they notched three draws (aka ties) and a loss in the group stage.

So who’s going to win?: As the only undefeated team, the Courage are definitely the favorites. Their star striker Lynn Williams leads the tournament in goals (this epic two-goal performance even won her Woman of the Match) and their goalkeeper Steph Labbé has been holding it down, too. This should be a piece of cake, but soccer is a game of moments, so you truly never know.

  • Looking at this weekend, the Washington Spirit should sail through their matchup against Sky Blue FC on Saturday, so our game of the weekend is the Houston Dash–Utah Royals FC tilt. The Royals may have the home crowd atmosphere, but the Dash have “something to prove.” Tune in tomorrow night at 10 p.m. ET.

Exciting. Any MLS news?: Great news from the Florida soccer bubble: no new COVID-19 cases were reported this week. The group stage is set to continue with no foreseeable match postponements or cancellations in sight and with no additional teams pulling out. Take a moment to knock on all the wood around you.

MLS Is Back Tournament faces COVID-19 complications

July 13, 2020
NWSL/TWITTER
NWSL/TWITTER

The GIST: The MLS may need to reconsider their super inventive return-to-play tournament name, aptly called the “MLS Is Back Tournament.” Maybe something like “MLS is kind of back, but maybe not for long, and not everyone is here...Tournament”?

What’s going on?: As predicted, Nashville SC (SC stands for Soccer Club) became the second team (the first was FC Dallas — FC stands for Football Club) to pull out of the tournament after several players and team staff tested positive for COVID-19, leaving 24 of the league’s 26 teams participating.

  • As a result, the group stage of the tournament had to be slightly rejigged, with Chicago FC, who usually plays in the Eastern Conference, moving over to play in the Western Conference’s Group B.
  • And yesterday, adding fuel to the fire, the match between D.C. United and Toronto FC (TFC) was postponed just minutes before kickoff, after a D.C. player tested positive and a TFC player’s test came back as inconclusive. The match has somehow been rescheduled for today...

Is the tournament continuing?: So far, yes. But we’re not totally sure how. Despite comprehensive testing before teams traveled to “the bubble” at Disney World in Orlando (where they’re staying close to the NBA, BTW), the league has reported several positive tests since the teams arrived.

  • And this is a BFD: this tournament marks the official start of the regular season, so all points that teams earn count towards their season standings. If enough teams find themselves facing postponed or canceled games (or having to pull out altogether), we anticipate some major backlash.
  • Over in the NWSL, the Challenge Cup is also well underway with a similar setup. But they’re facing fewer issues than the MLS.

Why’s that?: The MLS has three times as many teams as the NWSL (who has nine teams in the league, and eight teams playing in the Challenge Cup), so it’s understandable that the MLS is facing three times as many issues. Both leagues have also experienced a schedule shuffle thanks to teams dropping out.

  • But the difference seems to be the bubble. The MLS is playing in Florida, the world’s newest epicenter for COVID-19 (yesterday, the state reported over 15,000 new cases in one day), and at least two players have tested positive after testing negative before entering the bubble.
  • Meanwhile, the NWSL set up shop in Salt Lake City, Utah, a state that’s reporting relatively low numbers, and all players and team staff live between just two hotels and two stadiums. So far, there have been no positive tests within the bubble. Dare we say, women just plan better?

MLS Is Back Tournament Forced to Rejig Schedule

July 09, 2020
 MLS TWITTER
MLS TWITTER

The GIST: The MLS Is Back Tournament (the most snoozy and literal name ever, we know) kicked off last night, meaning that, along with the NWSL’s Challenge Cup that’s already underway, it’s soccer’s time to shine. But unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for the world’s most popular game.

Why not?: Put simply, COVID-19. On Tuesday, FC Dallas (FC stands for Football Club) pulled out of the tournament after 10 players and a coach tested positive for COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, Nashville SC (SC stands for Soccer Club) announced five players tested positive and four players had inconclusive tests, leading many to wonder if they’ll be the next team to drop out.

  • With FC Dallas dropping out and Nashville SC delaying games, the league had to rejig its schedule just two days before last night’s kickoff. We don’t envy that job.
  • This gives us wild déjà vu. Two weeks ago, the NWSL found themselves in a similar situation after the Orlando Pride pulled out of the Challenge Cup due to multiple players and staff testing positive for COVID-19. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: maybe it’s still too soon?

What does the MLS schedule look like now?: With FC Dallas dropping out, the schedule has been adjusted to accommodate 25 teams instead of 26, but the format of the tournament — a group stage followed by a knockout stage — is staying the same (v. similar to the World Cup).

  • In the group stage, Eastern Conference teams are split into groups A, C and E and Western Conference teams into B, D and F, with each team playing three group stage matches.
  • After that, the top two teams in groups B to F, the top three teams from group A and the next best three teams overall will move on to the 16-team knockout round, which starts on July 25th.

Got it. So how was opening night?: Awesome. And it was made even better by every player showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

And how’s the Challenge Cup going?: Swimmingly. After two exciting games yesterday, there’s just four more left in the group stage. North Carolina Courage currently hold the top spot, with the Houston Dash, Washington Spirit, OL Reign and the hostesses with the mostesses, Utah Royals FC, all in a battle for the second seed.

Guide to Soccer

July 08, 2020
Guide to Soccer

The GIST

Soccer is played on a field called a pitch with nets on both ends. Each team has 11 players (including a goalkeeper). A game is made up of two 45 minute halves. The object of the game is to score goals by kicking or heading the ball into the other teams’ net. The soccer ball cannot be touched with hands or arms unless you’re the goalkeeper or completing a throw in. Consequently, the game is known as “football” pretty much everywhere except North America. This name, of course, makes much more sense in comparison to NFL or CFL football, a sport played primarily using your hands. SMH at whoever came up with that name.

How is it organized?

Soccer is a wildly popular global sport mostly due to its accessibility — you literally just need a ball to play it. As a result, almost every single continent has its own professional soccer league (which can get a little confusing). The most popular men’s leagues are the English Premier League (EPL), Spanish La Liga and Major League Soccer (MLS). MLS is played in North America. 

Unlike other sports with a regular season and playoffs, teams collect points for wins at home or away, and goals home or away, so that at the end of the season a champion can be named. Playoffs start after the season champ is determined. On top of that, because soccer is a worldwide sport, there are huge tournaments where players represent their countries rather than the professional teams they’re signed to. These are the World Cup (played every four years) and the Euro Cup (also every four years but in the even-numbered year between World Cups). 

Women in Soccer

Unlike men’s soccer, which is well established in Europe, women’s soccer is most popular in North America. The best league in the world is the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with all teams based in the US. Some other leagues include the FA Women’s Super League in England and D1F which stands for Division 1 Feminine in France. The reigning NWSL champs are the North Carolina Courage. 

Women’s soccer is even more important on the international stage in tournaments like the Olympics and the World Cup. Here at The GIST, we are obsessed with our Canadian women’s national team. Most recently they were two-time bronze medallists in back-to-back Olympics and were ousted in the round of 16 in the 2019 World Cup. Not too shabby. Our fearless leader, Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns FC), is the world's top goal scorer — male or female — for international goals. Get it, girl!

Stuff to Know About Soccer

  • Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, being played in over 200 countries!!
  • No one knows exactly when soccer was created, but the earliest versions of the game can be traced back 3,000 years. Woah. 

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The beautiful game

July 06, 2020
RICK BOWMER/AP
RICK BOWMER/AP

The GIST: The NWSL’s Challenge Cup is well underway, and not to brag or anything, but the North Carolina Courage are kicking ass and taking names, just as we predicted.

Tell me more!: The Courage have won all three of their group stage matches and are the only team to do so. They’ll have the chance to make it four straight next Monday when they face the struggling Sky Blue FC (FC stands for Football Club), who are 0-1-1 (no wins, one draw and one loss).

  • Goalkeeping has been the highlight of the tournament, with numerous 0–0 draws and shutouts recorded. And the goals that have been let in, like Houston Dash Shea Groom’s Saturday night header, have been pretty jaw dropping too.
     
  • Next matchday is Wednesday, where we’ll see Utah Royals FC host OL Reign at 12:30 p.m. ET followed by the Houston Dash playing Sky Blue FC at 10 p.m. ET.

And what’s up with the MLS?: TBH, things are not looking too hot over on the men’s side. Although the MLS Is Back Tournament is set to begin on Wednesday in Florida, the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas game has been postponed, due to six Dallas players testing positive since arriving in Florida.

  • One team, Toronto FC, hasn’t even made it to Florida yet. They’ve had to postpone their flight twice, the most recent time after an unnamed travel party member began experiencing symptoms. The league hasn’t said what this all means yet, but we don’t like the looks of it.