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OL Reign announce plans to resume small group training

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With the NWSL the first team sport in the United States to allow limited group training, Reign say they’ll train in a ‘nearby’ county to address restrictions.

Nikita Taparia

OL Reign have announced plans to start “small group training” on Monday, keeping them in line with the rest of the NWSL, which became the first team-sports league in the United States to allow players to move beyond individualized workouts.

The move is Phase Two of the league’s “Return to Play Phased Protocol,” which was created by the NWSL medical task force.

The protocol requires a number of safety restrictions for each of the nine teams in the league. Prior to entering a facility, all players must complete a league-approved Pre-Training Assessment and have a daily symptom and temperature screening. All players and staff members are also required to take both an antigen polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and an antibody (IgG) test prior to being present at any group training.

Many of the rules implemented during Phase One of the league’s return to play — which began May 6 — remain. Players must arrive in their training gear and wear masks when arriving and departing the facility. Shared water bottles will not be permitted, and staff will perform a thorough cleaning after each group’s use of the facilities.

While the league’s rules permit the Reign to begin small group training, the state of Washington does yet not allow these activities to take place in Pierce County, where Cheney Stadium is located. OL Reign announced that the team will travel to a “nearby county” that is in Phase 2 of Washington state’s reopening process. The specific location was not shared by the club, but nearby Lewis County has been approved and neighboring Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties are eligible to apply for Washington’s Phase 2. Spokane and Whitman counties — where Gonzaga and Washington State University are located — are also in Phase 2 and might be better equipped to host professional athletes.

In addition, although league rules allow activities involving up to eight players, OL Reign shared they will train in groups of no more than five players and a member of the team’s technical staff, in compliance with the state’s rules for social distancing.

“Everybody in the club is excited to finally be back out on the pitch to train, if only in a limited capacity for now,” said OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore. “We are taking things slowly and carefully to ensure that we keep our players, staff, and members of our community safe.”

In this phase, OL Reign players will be allowed to access weight, training and meeting rooms for the first time since their ever-so-short preseason kicked off in March. Trainings can include “essential staff,” which is now a fairly extensive list of coaches, athletic trainers, sports scientists, team physicians and equipment managers.

Just five days after initiating small group training, OL Reign may progress into the NWSL’s Phase Three, which is full-team training — as long as doing so is not in violation of state or local restrictions. They’ll also need approval from their medical staff to advance.

OL Reign is evaluating plans for moving into Phase Three, which may require the club to train outside Washington state. This could include a trip to Salt Lake City, which looks increasingly likely to be the location for an NWSL tournament with all nine clubs. As Caitlin Murray shares, that tournament is expected to begin in late June and could be announced in the next couple of days. Predmore said the team would share its Phase Three plans later this week.

While most OL Reign players are now in the area — including the newly signed Yuka Momiki — some haven’t yet traveled back to Washington state. That includes Steph Catley, who remains in Australia, and Megan Rapinoe, who has chosen to quarantine in Connecticut with girlfriend Sue Bird. Darian Jenkins and Sofia Huerta, who both returned to their hometowns after concluding their W-League season, may also not be in Tacoma yet.

In moving to Phase Two, the NWSL becomes the first American team sport league to allow group workouts.

MLS remains in a small-group training moratorium through June 1, shortly after Gov. Inslee’s current stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire. Recent reports, however, have indicated that transmission rates may still be deemed too high in King County to permit the county to move into Phase 2, which would likely delay the Seattle Sounders’ ability to progress beyond their current training protocols or require them to similarly move training to another location in the state. Like the NWSL, MLS is also considering a single-location tournament.