The Challenger Cup & The Challenges Women Soccer Faces in Injury Risk
The National Women’s Soccer League (“NWSL”) hosted an extended preseason tournament, The Challenger Cup, over the last two weeks, leading to the start of what should be an exciting season for the league. Unfortunately, instead of coming out of preseason play energized for a competitive season, many teams are finding themselves down a few key players due to preventable preseason injuries. Within the first two match days, Tiera Davidson of the Chicago Red Stars and Lynn Williams of the Kansas City Current both suffered injuries, with Davidson’s severe enough to need ACL reparation surgery. The renowned Brazilian player, Marta Vieira da Silva, will be out for “a while” after suffering a knee injury during the Challenger Cup. Many other players have had to limit their minutes due to preseason injuries, including many United States Women’s National Team (“USWNT”) players such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Sam Mewis, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe.
When interviewed about the vast number of injuries experienced by many star athletes in the NWSL, the USWNT coach, Vlatko Andonovski, commented that there seemed to be a lack of connection between the injuries, stating that they trained in different environments and with different setups that led to different injuries. But perhaps Andonovski is, albeit unintentionally, pointing out the exact issue that is leading to the astounding number of injured players in women soccer today – a lack of consistency in training and playing environments within the NWSL. Players of the NWSL are expected to train on grass fields then play on turf fields, at various times of the day in various weathers, under different protections of various medical care. No wonder Ashlyn Harris tweeted at Washington Spirit, stating, “Get us a professional field and then we can talk. Until then take your amateur shit back to your high school field.”
One method that the NWSL players could utilize is modifying their collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) to require a consistent style of medical treatment, a consistent field material, and a consistent time range to ensure that conditions are not what is leading to the consistent, and frankly, dangerous injuries taking place within the NWSL. For instance, within the CBA of the National Football League (“NFL”), the league is required to guarantee funding for search on training methods, equipment, field surfaces, and medical care. Further, the NFL and their respective players’ association, under the guidance of the CBA, set up committees to design safety standards for equipment and field safety. Other methods to improve player safety from injury were the extension of training camp acclamation periods, strengthened standards for team medical and training staffs, enhanced protocol for concussion responses, and additional joint research funding. All of these changes to the 2020 CBA came after the NFL already had in place procedures to ensure safety, such as a requirement for a level playing field that is checked for bad spots 72 hours before the start of the match.
Many of the benefits afforded to the NFL players comes from negotiated terms within the CBA. While the NWSL’s Player Association has had much on their plate, from addressing the senseless abuse by many male coaches in the league to negotiating a livable wage to be guaranteed to each player, it may be time to focus in on an issue that is causing reckless injuries to many well-regarded athletes of the league: providing a safer and more consistent playing environment for each player.
Ashlyn can be found on Twitter @Ashlyn_Stone2.