It's finally go time: NWSL, Red Stars to start 2020 season today

My bad.

I mentioned last week that the WNBA, with plans to tip-off in late July, could be the first team sports league to get going in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Looks like the National Women's Soccer League, which includes the Chicago Red Stars, last year's league runner-up, will beat that benchmark by an entire month.

The NWSL is scheduled to play its first games of the 2020 season Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, which will host the entire NWSL season, without fans.

Each team can play with a 28-player roster.

The Red Stars' roster includes Morgan Brian, Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher and Casey Short, all of whom were on the U.S. Women's national team that won the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.

"I am excited about the players we have representing Chicago in the upcoming tournament," Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said. "We have a great combination of seasoned players familiar with the grind combined with younger players that have great potential. We are ready to take the field and make our supporters and our city proud."

The defending back-to-back league champions, the North Carolina Courage, will kick off the tournament against the Portland Thorns at 11:30 a.m. on CBS for the league's first live contest on a national broadcast network.

Then later that night, the Red Stars will be up against the Washington Spirit at 9 p.m. on CBS All Access. The entire 23-game tournament, which will run through July 26, will be shown on CBS All Access while CBS will return to broadcast the championship game.

Like the NBA and WNBA, which are planning to have a single-site venue for the entire season at Disney World and IMG Academy respectively, the NWSL will create a "league village" in Herriman where players will live, train and play in a quarantined-like situation in which contact with the outside will be limited and testing and screening will be frequent.

The focus on safety just intensified on Monday with news that six players and four staff members from the Orlando Pride have tested positive for COVID-19.

Due to the number of positive tests on the team and the timeline necessary before those players could return to training and competition, Orlando has withdrawn from the Challenge Cup, bringing the number of league teams competing down to eight.

"The health and safety of our players and staff is our number one priority and our thoughts are with those players and staff fighting this infection as well as the entire club in Orlando that has been impacted as a result," NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said. "We're all obviously disappointed, but in the current environment, this is a situation that we have prepared for and we will now adjust our plans and schedules to reflect the circumstances."

The Red Stars were originally scheduled to play their first Challenge Cup game against the Pride.

The NWSL says it has already conduced robust testing and will continue to do so and that no other positive tests have been detected.

Despite the many challenges already involved with his season, the NWSL does have plenty of positive news to provide some very welcomed balance.

The Challenge Cup has two presenting sponsors in P&G and Secret, and the league has a multiyear partnership with Verizon.

Also, the NWSL just announced that Google will be a corporate sponsor and will work to bring fans exclusive content from the Challenge Cup via Google's social channels. Fans will also be able to follow the tournament on Google Search.

And Google Meet will be used to securely host virtual cheering sections in the league's home markets around the country.

Meanwhile, in Chicago on Thursday, Meijer was added as the new "front-of-jersey" sponsor for the Red Stars.

"Meijer has been working tirelessly serving the community as an essential business," Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler said. "And now, they are taking a stand in supporting the future of women's professional sports. We thank them and are proud to wear their brand."

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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