Heath, Press join Rapinoe in skipping NWSL's Utah tournament due to COVID-19

(Reuters) - Two more U.S. national team members joined Megan Rapinoe in deciding to skip a month-long National Women’s Soccer League tournament in Utah that will be played in empty stadiums amid the COVID-19 outbreak, it was announced on Tuesday.

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Utah Royals forward Christen Press and Portland Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath, who played with Rapinoe on last year’s World Cup-wininng U.S. squad, both cited the virus as their reason for skipping the event that begins on Saturday.

“It is deeply painful not to be able to play the game I love, and to watch the broader effects of the global pandemic on our league, sports and our world,” Press said in a statement.

“Regrettably, given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, I must elect not to participate in this tournament.”

Heath said the risks associated with the virus outweighed her desire to return to competition.

“Although I want to be on the field with my teammates doing what I love because of the uncertainty and risks created by COVID-19, I have chosen not to participate in the NWSL Challenge Cup,” said Heath.

It was previously reported that Rapinoe, who plays for the OL Reign in Tacoma, Washington, would skip the event but it was confirmed on Tuesday in her team’s news release to announce its squad. A reason for her decision was not given.

“Megan let us know that she has decided not play in the tournament,” said OL Reign Chief Executive Bill Predmore. “Like all NWSL players, she was given the option to participate ... but we understand and respect her decision.”

The NWSL, which is the top U.S. women’s soccer league, was originally scheduled to kick off its 2020 season in mid-April but was delayed because of the coronavirus.

The Utah tournament, which would see players subject to testing throughout, would make the NWSL the first team-sport league in the United States to resume competition since live action ground to a halt in mid-March.

The Orlando Pride said this week they decided to withdraw from the event after players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Tom Brown