The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson for May 3, 2021

Breaking News: NWSL Challenge Cup Final might be coming to New Jersey — Plus links and Allie Long after her first game with Gotham FC!

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Hi! I asked last week and on Twitter for some help amplifying independent journalists. So I wanted to clarify, since a bunch of people just said “Meg Linehan.” I’m looking for folks who don’t don’t have full-time gigs, or perhaps have carved out their own niche, like Jackie Gutierrez, who has a wonderful website called Women Kick Balls. Or Katelyn Best, who is part of Rose City Review. Anyway: Please send me your faves! I’m still compiling a list. Twitter DMs are open, as usual.

Not on to the news: The Challenge Cup final is set.

https://t.co/22r6sPoVtupic.twitter.com/22r6sPoVtu/a/p—%20NJ/NY%20Gotham%20FC%20(@GothamFC)%20a%20href=https://twitter.com/GothamFC/status/1388929360808251397

Gotham will visit the Portland Thorns with no fans in attendance.

Maybe.

Lisa Baird has asked Governor Kate Brown for an exemption for the game from the state’s “Extreme Risk” protocols. Here’s my story for The Associated Press for background.

Here’s what Baird said in a letter to Brown on Sunday:

Dear Governor Brown,

Thank you for your continued leadership as Oregon and our country navigate the very important public health questions surrounding the ongoing pandemic.

As you may know, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League have won the West Division of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup presented by Secret Deodorant. The Thorns will finish pool-play having accumulated the most points in the tournament, and therefore earning not only the right to participate in the championship, but the City of Portland and the Thorns are also eligible to host the match on Saturday, May 8.

The league and our national broadcast partner CBS are thrilled to have Portland host the championship game and provide a unique showcase for what will likely be one of the largest television audiences in history to watch a women’s club competition.

The current COVID-related restrictions, however, would mean that no fans could attend this historic match. I’m writing today requesting an exemption be considered, allowing the Thorns to host fans with just 15% capacity. The NWSL and our clubs have been health and safety leaders in the world of sport during the current pandemic. Our medical protocols are sound, and all appropriate precautions are taken every time our players take the pitch for training and competition. We’re confident the Thorns can safely accommodate fans and are hopeful you’ll consider our request.

I know our players are especially excited at the prospect of winning a trophy in front of the amazing fans in Portland.

I’m available at your convenience to answer any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Lisa Baird

Here is the response from Leah Horner in Governor Brown’s office, sent just a few minutes ago.

Commissioner Baird:

Thank you for your email. In Oregon, we are extremely proud of the Thorns and what they have achieved so far this season. We also appreciate the example the Thorns have set by promoting vaccination and mask wearing in Oregon.

Hospitals in the Portland-metro area are being hit the hardest by the latest increases in severe COVID-19 cases. Multnomah County is in the Extreme Risk level, which means COVID-19 is widespread throughout the community, and the health and safety restrictions for gathering size are clear. Those health and safety measures are in place to save lives. Large gatherings of thousands of people in one place create far too many opportunities for new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 to spread.

Unfortunately, granting your request to allow fans in the stands would pose too great a public health risk, when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging in Oregon. Oregon is in the middle of our fourth surge of COVID-19. In the last two weeks, Oregon’s case rate has increased faster than in any other state in the nation. In the last year, we have learned what follows when cases increase: hospitalizations and deaths. Modeling from Oregon Health & Science University indicates that the difficult decisions we make by acting now will save hundreds of lives and prevent hundreds of people from being hospitalized.

Governor Brown understands how much Oregonians enjoy attending live sporting events, but, for right now, that doesn’t outweigh the very real risk of resulting hospitalizations, and possibly even deaths with our current levels of COVID-19 spread.

Oregonians have made smart choices and incredible sacrifices throughout this crisis. We are holding the line for a few more weeks, as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. We are hopeful that Multnomah County will reenter the High Risk level to allow for spectators at outdoor professional sporting events again.

Thank you.

Leah Horner

Regional Solutions Director

Jobs & Economy Policy Advisor

Office of Governor Kate Brown

A couple of things: When I posted this to Twitter, there were lots of strong feelings on both sides. Cases have been on the rise in Oregon, this is true, and we need to do all we can to protect those in our communities who are vulnerable. That’s what’s being part of a community is all about.

But also, it’s an outdoor event, and Thorns fans are simply more likely to follow masking and distancing guidelines. So I get the strong feelings.

For what it’s worth, I had a couple of sources on this topic. One said the NWSL was considering moving the event if fans aren’t allowed. The other said Portland will host no matter what Brown says.

Meanwhile (and hat tip to Jonathan Tannenwald for outpointing):

https://t.co/bKYNS07xrIhttps://t.co/bKYNS07xrI/a%20a%20href=https://t.co/rpiZiP9Awypic.twitter.com/rpiZiP9Awy/a/p—%20The%20Philadelphia%20Inquirer%20(@PhillyInquirer)%20a%20href=https://twitter.com/PhillyInquirer/status/1389258169805787139

So stay tuned, I guess?

TANNENWALD UPDATE JUST AHEAD OF FILING THIS:

Meanwhile: WEAR A MASK!

Oh and some personal news:

https://t.co/v5eaRJjVWkpic.twitter.com/v5eaRJjVWk/a/p—%20Anne%20M.%20Peterson%20(@AnnieMPeterson)%20a%20href=https://twitter.com/AnnieMPeterson/status/1389016269576310785

LINKS!

(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! apeterson@ap.org.

The New Yorker takes on the NWSL, and Gotham’s transformation, excellent work from Louisa Thomas.

Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer had an exclusive with Sam Mewis that you should definitely read.

A soccer referee in Israel, Sapir Berman, has come out as transgender. Also, this AP story as a follow-up here.

Cesar Hernandez wrote a nice story on Janelly Farias for The Guardian.

Steve Voght with Ride of the Valkries writes about the reports that Eugenie Le Sommer is coming to the NWSL.

People magazine giving the NWSL a little love with Brittany Matthews celebrating Kansas City’s home opener with her finance.

Paula Vairo for Sports Illustrated on Gotham’s rebrand and more.

Julia Poe for the Orlando Sentinel on the NWSL joining the ‘major’ sports leagues in opposing voter suppression.

Sandra Herrera for CBS Sports explains the NWSL schedule.

The Kansas City Star covers its NWSL team’s start.

Meaghen Johnson on Victoria Pickett’s return from a knee injury for TSN.

Meg Linehan from The Athletic on why we should all be watching Catarina Macario.

Meg also wrote about how the NWSL schedule is made, because of course she did.

Former players at Real Madrid are alleging problems within the women’s side.

I agree with Blair Neman’s take on Racing Louisville for The Equalizer.

Dan Lauletta for The Equalizer asks if there’s been a standout in the Challenge Cup? Good question!


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Five at The IX: Allie Long

Allie had just one practice with Gotham before Sunday’s game. Quite the transition. Here’s what she had to say after the game.

Question: What what are you seeing out of this team already? And then, you know, you’re pretty familiar with Portland. So what are your expectations for this match up in the final?

Long: First of all, the transition has been amazing. I’ve never really been in this position before to turn around and play so quickly. So it’s something that’s like a new experience. But Gotham has made it so easy. The first training session — I got here on Friday night, trained Saturday. The first training session, it was fun, it was technical. I could just feel that there’s a culture here that they’re building that I’m super excited to be a part of. And then as for Portland, I think we know what to expect, how they get that home game by the way? Just wondering. But there’s no place that I’d rather play, actually, than at Portland in a final. So I think the team’s super excited. And I think this week we’re going to prepare for them and go at it on May 8th.

Question: When you were still with the Reign, were you involved heavily in game planning for the match against the Thorns? And were you on the bench for that match? And if so, is there any insight that you have the team?

Long: I actually picked up a tiny injury the game before that, and then the game was only four days later. So I actually wasn’t on the bench. But of course I was preparing with the team and helping everyone out. I think the Thorns are pretty predictable in the type of style that they play and what they’re trying to do. I don’t think it’s anything new. I think they’re great in transition. They get numbers behind the ball. They make it hard for you to score. I think that this 2021 Thorns, they have a little bit more attacking forward threat and behind of course, we haven’t really seen Becky with them like at her best in games. I think that now she has games under her belt, and if they’re healthy, it’s going to be a really good game. I’m just excited both our transition game and their transition game will be a fun matchup.

Question: From your perspective on the field, given that you were asked to shift around a little bit there positionally as well, what were you asked to execute and what are your feelings on how the midfield did execute today?

Long: I think going in Becca’s made me as comfortable as possible and she just wanted to connect the back line to the forwards going into it. Whether I was up to the eight or the six, I think at the six I’m able to dictate the play a little bit more, whereas at eight, I’m kind of waiting for someone to pass it to me more so. I think that she just wanted me on the ball, to try to get comfortable and kind of break break me into the new team. There’s was no necessarily like what I needed to or didn’t need to (do), just kind of just be me, get comfortable, get your feet wet and get the W, try to win.

Question: Yeah. You mentioned earlier, you know, there’s no place you’d rather play a final than away in Portland. Does it have any special meaning for you, going against a longtime rival from your old club in Portland.

Long: Every single time I come back to Portland and I love it, both for the rivalry sense, but also just because it’s one of the best place to play. That energy is contagious. And as much as the Thorns are going to feel it, so are we. So I’m super excited. I always love going back there and like, who wouldn’t want to play a final there? So I’m super pumped.

Question: Did you feel like there was a lot of pressure making your debut?

Long: I actually felt no pressure at all. I felt really excited to play. I’ve had, in the Challenge Cup, had (I thought she said kidney?) issues, and then calf issues, so I haven’t really played a game. I was just so excited for a game. I watched the teams in the NWSL, I’ve been a fan of Gotham, so I’ve kind of evaluated their style and how they play and what they are trying to do. When I got traded here, I was super excited to kind of fit into their system and be a part of their culture. So for me, I was just so pumped to get on the ball and get going and just of enjoy my time. But no pressure, just doing my best to help the team any way that I could.

Question: How comfortable did you feel, just like literally hopping into this game?

Long: Super comfortable. I think that just having Becca, I’ve played with her, I’ve known her my entire life and I think her, as someone on the staff, has made that super comfortable. Carly, playing with her on the national team for many years. It felt very easy just to come into the system. It felt almost seamless in a sense, where I didn’t feel the pressure. I didn’t really put too many expectations, except like my goal is just to be the best I could for my team and do whatever I had to do for them.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Annie Peterson