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FAWSL’s Lack of Consistency Around COVID Protocols Is Creating A Mess

Football stadium at night / JWS
Football stadium at night / JWS

The Football Association is under fire mere days after the second half of the season began due to lack of communication and consistency surrounding COVID-19 protocols. The FA is now facing quite a bit of criticism, and clubs and fans are awaiting answers.

It started when Arsenal confirmed that one of their players had tested positive for COVID-19 after three of their players took a trip to Dubai, UAE during the holiday break. According to the club, they were not aware that their players were traveling. Still, after an investigation by the club, Arsenal concluded that the trip was made for ‘business’ reasons, which means that the players will face no punishment.

Manchester City face similar problems as four of their players who also decided to take a trip to Dubai contacted COVID-19. Unlike Arsenal, the players apparently did inform the club prior to traveling. The club sanctioned the trip because at the time Manchester was a Tier 3 zone (Very High Alert zone), not a Tier 4 zone (Stay at Home zone).

Because of these turn of events, both Arsenal and Manchester City requested from the FA that they postpone their upcoming fixtures against Aston Villa and West Ham respectively, with City also asking their tie against Chelsea in the FAWSL League Cup be delayed as well. Both clubs informed the FA that they would be unable to field 14 players since they have players who did not travel isolating as a precaution.

According to The Times, more than ten players from the WSL (including the seven from Manchester City and Arsenal) travelled to Dubai for a holiday. Manchester United’s manager, Casey Stoney, confirmed that players from her team were permitted to go on the trip, but apologized for allowing them to travel.

The FA postponed Arsenal’s match against Aston Villa (despite Villa appealing the decision for the game to be called off — they now have had three games postponed due to COVID) as well as Manchester City’s two matches against Chelsea and West Ham. They’ve also postponed Manchester United’s match against Everton due to Everton not being able to field 14 players because of positive COVID tests and an abundance of injuries. This makes it all the more confusing when manager Willie Kirk confirmed that all of Everton’s latest round of testing came back negative.

That being said, the FA has appeared wildly inconsistent, with Birmingham City’s request to postpone their match against Tottenham this Sunday because they only have ten match-fit players denied.

Birmingham have one positive case, the same as Arsenal, but because they have a smaller squad than other teams, and are suffering an injury crisis, they are unable to even field a starting XI. Despite the FA denying the request, the match was called off, and the outcome of it will be determined by an independent tribunal.

Yes, Birmingham having a smaller squad is not the FA’s fault, but the club does not have the funds to strengthen its ranks like some of its counterparts in the league. And now they’re being punished for it, as the FA will not be rescheduling the fixture. The decision is hardly consistent with the decision made for the Manchester United vs Everton fixture given that Everton’s situation is not dissimilar to Birmingham’s.

With all these postponements, many are wondering why Birmingham have not been given the same courtesy, and why this situation was not handled the same back in November when Bristol City had five players test positive for COVID. The FA also denied their request to postpone the match, and Bristol were forced to play several academy players in their 8-1 loss against Manchester City.

Bristol have asked the FA for clarification about their rulings regarding what qualifies an outbreak within a club as early in the season; the FA informed clubs that if a team were unable to field a squad of 14 players, they would be granted permission to postpone the match — a luxury that Bristol City were denied in November. Their manager, Tanya Oxtoby, reiterated that she was not pleased, stating that the club “asked for clarification from the FA around the 14 player rule and what that looks like because we were given 90 minutes to find our players before we had to travel up to Manchester City [back in November]. The timing of the [FA’s] announcement and the amount of time clubs would have had to find 14 players from academies, have them registered and tested probably is the bit we’re looking for clarification on.”

Oxtoby has every right to feel frustrated when the FA refuses to be transparent about why “bigger’ clubs are getting special treatment, especially since the clubs getting favour had players who acted incredibly irresponsibly by travelling over the break. Although Arsenal claim that the trip was for “business”, that’s hard to believe, given that the players’ job, the “business” they should actually be handling, requires they are healthy and available for matches in the UK. Not to mention, several players posted pictures on Instagram of beaches and parties during their time in Dubai.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that clubs who only had a few players go to Dubai are not able to field a squad of 14. It then becomes a question as to whether the clubs just do not want to play the match without their best players. With the clubs having an out by the FA postponing matches rather than making the clubs forfeit and awarding the opponents with the win, and both the FA and the clubs letting off their players for acting irresponsible, Oxtoby is right to call out the apparent favoritism.

And she’s not the only one. After the FA’s decision, fans and reporters took to Twitter to voice their frustrations, using the hashtag #DubaiGate to criticize those who travelled.

Several FAWSL players also took to Twitter to voice their frustration with the decisions. Chelsea players Fran Kirby, Bethany England, and Carly Telford were clearly agitated with their match against City being postponed, with Kirby highlighting that their already packed schedule will give the FA little room to fit the game in down the line.

Reading’s Emma Mitchell was a bit more direct in voicing her frustrations on Twitter, tagging the FA directly regarding the Arsenal match being postponed came out. West Ham’s Gilly Flaherty stated that women footballers had worked too hard to be recognized as professionals to throw it away by not remaining humble.

The FA needs to step up and communicate to clubs and players what the proper procedure is for all teams, ensuring that the rule is applied equally to all.

And there needs to come a point where these clubs, regardless of how big they are or how successful they’ve been in the past, must be punished with points and wins being awarded to their opponents if they continue to act irresponsibly while failing to foresee to see the consequences of their actions.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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