The National Women's Soccer League is close to finalizing plans for a month-long tournament this summer in Salt Lake City, a precursor to possibly returning to a regular schedule this year, four people close to the situation said Tuesday.
The NWSL would become the first established U.S. professional team sport to announce a return to competition since the novel coronavirus pandemic forced sports to shut down in March.
The league's nine owners have voted in favor of proceeding, said two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because some details remain unresolved. Not all U.S. national team players are sold on the plan, two people said.
The NWSL, which features the 23 players from last year's U.S. World Cup championship squad and several international stars, has asked teams to submit rosters and essential staff who would travel to Utah, three people familiar with the situation said.
NWSL spokeswoman Kirsten Brierley said the league did not want to comment. Messages left for the NWSL Players Association and the Utah Royals, who would host the tournament, were not returned.
Everyone in NWSL's travel delegations would begin undergoing testing for the coronavirus this week. Health-care officials in many states have reported an abundance of testing equipment.
Teams in hard-hit areas of the country, such as New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC and the Chicago Red Stars, would be the first to arrive in Utah because of strict guidelines in their home markets. Others would arrive weeks later.
Several teams are conducting voluntary individual workouts. The league's moratorium on group training sessions expires Sunday, and it's unclear whether it will extend the guidelines.
In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, last week shifted most of the state from a moderate risk level to a lower risk level, though greater Salt Lake City remained in the moderate category.
Once they arrive in Utah, NWSL teams would remain in a "controlled environment," people familiar with the plans said, and undergo regular testing. As of Tuesday, the state had reported 7,518 cases and 88 deaths; it's one of 11 states with fewer than 100 deaths.
The tournament is slated to begin June 27-28 and, according to initial plans, would have three three-team groups. Presumably, teams would play one another twice for a total of four matches. All but one team would then proceed to the quarterfinals for the start of single knockout matches.
Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy and Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman are the primary venue options. Both are operated by MLS's Real Salt Lake, which owns the Utah Royals. Zions Bank Stadium is part of the RSL training center and youth academy; it's home to the Real Monarchs, a second-division men's team.
Few, if any, spectators would be allowed to attend the games. CBS Sports, in the first year of an agreement with the league, is expected to show the matches on TV and digital platforms.
The league's objective, people close to the situation said, is to restart the league during a void in the sports landscape and, if health conditions allow, begin scheduling regular season matches in home markets later this summer or in the fall. The Washington Spirit was scheduled to play four home games apiece at Audi Field, Maryland SoccerPlex and Leesburg's Segra Field.