Red Stars get four games as part of new fall se­ries

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - AN­NIE COSTABILE acosta­bile@suntimes.com | @An­nieCosta­bile

The Red Stars are pre­par­ing to get back to ac­tion af­ter the Na­tional Women’s Soc­cer League an­nounced its re­turn to play with a fall se­ries from Sept. 5 through Oct. 17.

Over the course of seven weeks, there will be a to­tal of 18 NWSL matches, seven of them air­ing on CBS net­works. An­other four will stream ex­clu­sively on CBS All Ac­cess.

“We’re start­ing our third pre­sea­son,” Red Stars mid­fielder Danielle Co­laprico said. “It’s hard to go an en­tire year play­ing such few games, so [this] will be great for the league.”

The se­ries will be built around three re­gional “pods,” each con­sist­ing of three teams. Within each pod, each team will play the oth­ers twice each — a to­tal of four games per team and six per pod — to limit travel and po­ten­tial ex­po­sure to the coro­n­avirus. The full sched­ule and format of play will be re­leased in the next week, the league said.

The Red Stars will play in the North­east pod, along with Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit.

Although the se­ries will not be held in bub­ble en­vi­ron­ments, the NWSL has es­tab­lished health and safety pro­to­cols that mir­ror those suc­cess­fully used for its month­long Chal­lenge Cup in June and July.

Most no­table are the travel guide­lines: For travel be­tween mar­kets, teams must ei­ther fly or char­ter two 50-plus-per­son mo­tor coaches. Vans aren’t per­mit­ted. And for air travel, play­ers and per­son­nel must main­tain their as­signed seats through­out a flight, un­less mov­ing to a new seat puts more space be­tween peo­ple. Seat changes must be re­ported.

Play­ers and per­son­nel will be tested for the coro­n­avirus daily and un­dergo symp­tom screen­ing. If a player or staff mem­ber tests pos­i­tive, that team’s fa­cil­i­ties must close im­me­di­ately, and con­tact trac­ing must be­gin.

Fan at­ten­dance for the games will vary by mar­ket, de­pend­ing on whether a team wants to al­low fans and whether it’s ac­cept­able un­der lo­cal and state guide­lines. Teams that host fans also must sub­mit fan-man­age­ment plans to the league that en­sure no one sits closer than the eighth row.

“The women of the NWSL want to com­pete, and we’ve cer­tainly heard from our fans all over the world look­ing for more ac­tion this year,” NWSL com­mis­sioner Lisa Baird said in a state­ment.

RICK BOWMER/AP

The Red Stars’ Katie John­son (right) and Sky Blue FC’s Gina Le­wandowski will meet again soon.

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