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USWNT 2020 fall camp opens in Colorado with strict COVID-19 protocols

Firm protocols coupled with competition, coaching, and tempered camaraderie will highlight the 10-day camp.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

Twenty-six invited elite US women soccer players arrived in metropolitan Denver this past Sunday in advance of the US Women’s National Team fall 2020 camp. It is the first time in seven months that the competitive and eager-to-impress group will be together, kicking off preparation for the rescheduled 2020 Summer Olympics—now set for July 23–August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

The invites include three Colaradons: Real Colorado products Sophia Smith and Jaelin Howell, and Colorado Rush and 2019 World Cup medal winner, Lindsey Horan. USWNT star Mallory Pugh should have been including in the call-up; however, she is nursing a hip injury that developed during her NWSL play this summer.

Prior to the camp opening, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said: “We want to reward players who have done well for their clubs and give them a chance to step up and perform in our environment.

We have a lot of uncapped players and a few who have had the chance to earn a few caps, but we know that deepening our player pool is important as we head into 2021.

For this camp, it just did not make sense for the players in Europe to leave their club environments, where they are getting quality training games, as they are just starting to get settled, but this opens up the important opportunity for other players to step up and show if they can contribute to the National Team during our run to the Olympics.”

Return to Play

As with nearly all amateur and professional sports, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily influenced how this camp has been set up and executed. The USWNT will be following the COVID-19 Manual for U.S. National Team Camps and Events, compiled by the US Soccer Medical team.

As such, a smaller-than-usual staff delegation also traveled to Colorado with 22 USWNT staff members, including Andonovski and his assistant coaches, the USWNT high-performance coach, team administrator, equipment manager, and athletic trainers. Also traveling are a sports scientist and team doctor, sports psychologist, data analyst arrived along with the players, as did a video analyst, technical videographer, press officer, content manager, videographers, photographer, and a safety officer.

With a COVID-19 surge occurring nationwide and a recent rise in cases in Colorado, US Soccer is taking the high road and aims to mitigate risk to the health and wellness of their players and staff, while attempting to fulfill their camp mission of developing and evaluating players.

Certain components of the camp will be by-the-book per usual, while other elements will be new to the players, staff member, media, and of course, USWNT fans.

The 45-page operating manual contains guidelines that are based on FIFA’s documents as well as the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

For USWNT fans who often find ways to catch a glimpse of a training session or earn an autograph and selfie before their favorite soccer idol boards the team bus, sadly, that will not be possible this year. Per page 25 of the manual: “Absolutely no spectators allowed.”

The fence line that surrounds the team’s three training fields have been enveloped in black screen mesh fabric to ensure privacy and to cut down on the cold fall wind. Security representatives are also on the watch to enforce the no spectator policy. The USWNT will not be sharing any stadium facilities with the Colorado Rapids.

Members of the media, who are typically provided with supervised access to staff and players before and after training sessions, will now do so virtually, during Zoom and telephone conference calls facilitated by USWNT media relations representatives.

Training

Training guidelines are quite intricate.

Here are just a few examples from the operating manual that the team and staff must adhere to:

  • Both team meetings and actual training are preferable to be held outdoors. Before and after training, all equipment (including goals, benches, balls, cones, freekick mannequins, ladders, and sticks) is disinfected to WHO standards.
  • During small group sessions, each group is to arrive at staggered times.
  • Staff and coaches are required to wear face cover or masks when not physically active.
  • Players are encouraged to arrive at the training site fully dressed and are required to wear PPE upon their arrival and when not training.
  • Players may only use personal hydration bottles, absolutely no sharing.
  • On-site restrooms at the fields must be private and not public, and only one person should use the restroom at a time.
  • There are also on-field sanitation sites stocked with hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

Otherwise, they take direction, compete, and showcase their talents.

Base Camp

When not at training, the team and staff will operate inside a controlled environment hotel. Everyone who has entered the setting has undergone multiple COVID-19 tests before departing for Denver. They were tested again upon their arrival and will be tested every two days during the 10-day camp.

During the previous camps, the norm was players and staff mingled, dinned together, socialized, and bonded. Player wellness and fitness testing, and indoor strength training perhaps would have been held in hotel gyms or at pop-up training stations in a hotel ballroom. Player education, review of game and practice videos, and discussions of playing styles and tactical theories by the coaching staff would have been also been conducted in classroom-style ballrooms.

Now, players have and staff have access to the hotel’s fitness center, which is dedicated for their use. The facility is cleaned and sanitized every morning and evening to WHO specifications. The team also utilizes very large classroom-like meeting room. Players and coaches are masked and socially distanced during team meetings, and players have the option of attending virtually if they prefer.

Even the celebration of a player’s birthday offers for some creativity. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris celebrated with her teammates, in a socially distanced manner of course, and by waving out her birthday candles instead of blowing them out.

All in all, as the COVID-19 pandemic dictates how we operate in our respective worlds, the women and men that make up this camp—and the entire US Soccer organization—have had to consult, collaborate, apply their good judgment in order create new rules of play.

Flexibility, sacrifice, and adaptation are the new norms for athletes, staff members, fans, and media. Hopefully, by all of us committing to play our part, minimal harm will be achieved and further loss avoided as we move forward.

USWNT OCTOBER TRAINING CAMP ROSTER (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (4): Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit; 0), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash; 3), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride; 25), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 63)

DEFENDERS (9): Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage; 61/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 26/1), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage; 104/24), Naomi Girma (Stanford; 0/0), Sarah Gorden (Chicago Red Stars; 0/0) Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride; 107/1), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals FC; 131/2), Margaret Purce (Sky Blue FC; 1/0), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 177/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Shea Groom (Houston Dash; 0/0), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 86/19), Morgan Gautrat (Chicago Red Stars; 87/8), Jaelin Howell (Florida State; 0/0), Catarina Macario (Stanford; 0/0), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash; 15/1), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit; 0/0)

FORWARDS (6): Bethany Balcer (OL Reign; 0/0), Mia Fishel (UCLA; 0/0), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit; 2/0), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC; 0/0), Kealia Watt (Chicago Red Stars; 3/1), Lynn Williams (NC Courage; 28/9)