Tag Archives: season

New format, new team as 2nd Challenge Cup tournament kicks off new NWSL season

The second annual National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup begins Friday with plenty of intrigue, a new expansion team and 15 Canadians in the mix.  

The NWSL was the first North American professional sport to return during the COVID-19 pandemic last June with the inaugural Challenge Cup, then a round-robin tournament format held in a bubble environment in Salt Lake City. 

This year’s edition will be much different. 

First of all, the teams won’t be in one place, they’ll be travelling and fans will be allowed into select stadiums depending on local guidelines. The league’s 10 teams will be divided into East and West divisions of five teams, playing each team once — two home, two away.  The division winners will meet in the championship game on May 8 (location still to be determined). 

The East:

  • North Carolina Courage
  • Orlando Pride
  • Racing Louisville FC
  • Gotham City FC
  • Washington Spirit

The West:

  • Chicago Red Stars
  • Houston Dash
  • Kansas City
  • Portland Thorns
  • OL Reign

The tournament kicks off April 9 with a doubleheader, featuring a rematch of last year’s final between the reigning champion Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars and Kansas City NWSL (formerly Utah Royals) on the road versus Christine Sinclair’s Portland Thorns FC. 

Canadian forward Christine Sinclair and her Portland team take on Kansas City Friday as part of an opening-day doubleheader. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images)

Racing Louisville FC makes its league debut April 10 as it hosts Orlando, which missed last year’s Challenge Cup due to COVID-19 cases within the club. 

National team members for both Canada and the United States will miss the beginning of the tournament because of international friendlies in Europe. 

Four games will air on the league’s broadcast partner, CBS Sports, and all games are streamed on Paramount+, formerly known as CBS All Access. The Challenge Cup is precursor to the NWSL’s regular season, which opens in mid-May and ends in October. 

North Carolina Courage

Stars: Casey Murphy (GK, USA), Debinha (F, BRA), Lynn Williams (F, USA), Abby Erceg (FB, NZL) 

Canadians to watch: Lindsay Agnew (FB, Kingston, ON)

Notes: First-round draft pick and Canadian international Deanne Rose (10th overall) will play her senior season with the University of Florida this spring and join the team at a later date. The Courage lost some key players in the off-season. The three biggest saw fullback Crystal Dunn moving to Portland in a three-team blockbuster trade and Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper joining Manchester City.  

WATCH: How Deanne Rose conquered her senior year in a pandemic:

Deanne Rose speaks with Signa Butler about going in the first round of the NWSL draft, dealing with the pandemic, and the SheBelieves cup. 3:07

Orlando Pride

Stars: Alex Morgan (F, USA), Sydney Leroux (F), Marta (F, BRA), Ashlynn Harris (GK, USA), Ali Krieger (FB, USA) 

Canadians to watch: Erin McLeod (GK, St. Albert, Alta)

Notes: McLeod was named to one of Canada’s 10 allocation spots, meaning those players’ salaries are paid by the federation. She’s also back in the national team mix for the first time in over two years. Harris and Krieger welcomed their first child this past February and are currently on a hiatus from international duty. 

Racing Louisville FC 

Stars: Yuki Nagasato (F, JPN), Savannah McCaskill (F)

Canadians to watch: None. 

Note: Louisville took a chance in the expansion draft choosing American national team veterans Tobin Heath and Christen Press. Both are under contract with Manchester United, so whether they’ll don the lavender and midnight violet is still to be determined. Also, Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy (Tottenham) and Caitlyn Foord (Arsenal) are currently on loan overseas. 

NY/NJ Gotham City FC (formerly Sky Blue FC) 

Stars: Carli Lloyd (F, USA), Midge Purce (FB, USA), Nahomi Kawasumi (F, JPN) 

Canadians to watch: Kailen Sheridan (GK, Whitby, ON), Evelyne Viens (F, L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que) 

Notes: The team formerly known as Sky Blue FC will now be called Gotham City FC thanks to a rebrand announced earlier this week. Sheridan, the reigning NWSL Challenge Cup Gold Glove winner and team MVP, is out an indefinite period of time because of a torn quadricep, an injury she suffered while playing for Canada during the opening game at the SheBelieves Cup. She underwent successful surgery and is currently rehabbing, hoping to be back on target for the Tokyo Olympics. Viens earned her first caps at any level for Canada at the SheBelieves Cup and is coming off a loan to Paris FC where she scored 11 goals in 14 matches. 

Evelyne Viens scored 11 goals in 14 games with Paris FC. (Getty Images)

Washington Spirit 

Stars: Kelley O’Hara (FB, USA), Emily Sonnett (FB, USA), Andi Sullivan (MF, USA)

Canadians to watch: Devon Kerr (GK, Barrie, ON)

Notes: Trinity Rodman, a striker and daughter of former NBA star Dennis, was chosen second overall in the 2021 NWSL college draft. Kerr, a dual citizen, has represented Canada and the U.S. at the youth international level. 

Chicago Red Stars

Stars: Tierna Davidson (FB, USA), Julie Ertz (MF, USA), Casey Krueger (FB, USA), Alyssa Naeher (GK, USA), Mallory Pugh (F, USA)

Canadians to watch: Bianca St-Georges (FB,  St. Felix de Valois, Que) 

Notes: St-Georges had a breakout performance at last year’s Challenge Cup and is now an allocated player by Canada Soccer, meaning the organization pays her salary rather than the team. She picked up a knee injury during the pre-camp for the SheBelieves Cup, had surgery and is expected back for the NWSL regular season.  

Houston Dash 

Stars: Rachel Daly (F, ENG), Jane Campbell (GK, USA), Kristie Mewis (MF, USA) 

Canadians to watch: Allysha Chapman (FB, Courtice, ON), Nichelle Prince (F, Ajax, ON), Sophie Schmidt (MF, Abbotsford, B.C.), Maegan Kelly (F, Kansas City) 

Notes: The reigning Challenge Cup champs Dash were perennial basement dwellers before a culture shift under coach James Clarkson turned the team into a side that’s hard to beat. Schmidt recently signed a two-year extension plus an option after a solid performance last season, while Chapman and Prince are also regular starters.

WATCH | Analyzing Canada’s performance at SheBelieves Cup:

Signa Butler is joined by John Molinaro and Harjeet Johal, to assess Team Canada’s performance in their debut at the SheBelieves Cup and which players made the most of their opportunity, for the notably short-handed Canadian side. 7:20

Kansas City NWSL

Stars: Kate Bowen (MF, NZL), Rachel Corsie (D, SCO), Mariana Larroquette (F, ARG), Amy Rodriguez (F)

Canadians to watch: Jordyn Listro (MF, Toronto), Diana Matheson (MF, Oakville, ON), Desiree Scott (MF, Winnipeg), Victoria Pickett (MF, Newmarket, ON)

Notes: It’s a bit of a homecoming for Scott, who was part of the original Kansas City NWSL franchise. Listro was traded from Orlando to Kansas City in March. She went from being a trialist with the Pride to starting three of four games in the Fall Series. She earned her first caps with Canada at the recent SheBelieves Cup. Pickett was selected in the second round of the 2021 NWSL college draft after a successful career at the University of Wisconsin. 

Portland Thorns

Stars: Crystal Dunn (FB, USA), Lindsey Horan (MF, USA), Becky Sauerbrunn (FB, USA), Sophia Smith (F, USA), Rocky Rodriguez (MF, CRC)

Canadians to watch: Christine Sinclair (F, Burnaby, B.C.)

Notes: The Fall Series champions and always competitive Thorns just got a whole lot tougher to beat thanks to the addition of Dunn in a three-team blockbuster deal. Dunn is a rare player, one who can be a tough, defensively minded wingback in one breath and in the next, make a dazzling move or two, beat defenders with her incredible pace and send  deadly crosses in front of goal. Christine Sinclair, the team’s 37-year-old captain and international soccer’s all-time leading goal scorer, is coming off an injury that kept her out of the SheBelieves Cup. Longtime Thorn Tobin Heath, who is on loan to Manchester United, was taken by Racing Louisville FC during the expansion draft. 

OL Reign 

Stars: Megan Rapinoe (MF, USA), Rose Lavelle (MF, USA), Jess Fishlock (MF, Wales), Shirley Cruz (MF, CRC)

Canadians to watch: Quinn (MF/FB, Toronto)

Notes: Quinn, an allocated player for the first time since 2018, played for Sweden club, Vittsjio GIK, on a short loan this off-season. A member of Canada’s bronze-medal winning team at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Quinn, who plays multiple positions as a midfielder/defender, will be an asset in competing for selection on the Canadian team for Tokyo.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler previews Canada’s upcoming U.K. friendlies:

Head coach Bev Priestman has a chance to determine her strongest 18-player roster as Canada come up against Wales and 6th-ranked England in back to back friendlies this month. 9:02

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Experts question whether Canucks can finish season following COVID-19 outbreak

The NHL says it remains hopeful the Vancouver Canucks can complete a 56-game schedule even though 25 members of the team have tested positive for a variant form of COVID-19, but some experts question if that is possible.

The Canucks released a statement Wednesday saying 21 players, including three on the taxi squad, plus four staff members, “have tested positive and the source infection is confirmed a variant.” Which variant has not been confirmed.

On Tuesday, when the Canucks had 18 players on the COVID-19 protocol list, an NHL spokesman said “a 56-game season is still the focus,” but if necessary the league has some flexibility on scheduling the opening of the playoffs. Asked Wednesday if anything had changed following the Canucks’ announcement, the spokesman said, “my answer is the same as it was yesterday.”

An NHL agent said he had heard nothing about any plans to cancel games.

“So far it sounds like they will push forward based on what I’m hearing,” the agent said.

WATCH | Concerns intensify amid Canucks’ growing outbreak:

Twenty-five members of the Vancouver Canucks organization have tested positive for a COVID-19 variant and it has put the remainder of the team’s season in question. 1:55

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician for St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said studies have shown people affected by the different variants “will recover on pace,” but depending on the severity of the virus — professional players may need extra time to regain their conditioning.

“They may be out of quarantine in 10 days, but a lot of players may not return after they are considered clear,” he said. “They may actually need a few weeks to get back to hockey normal.”

The Canucks’ situation is complicated because so many players have contracted the virus.

“If you have an outbreak of five or six [players] you can fill in the gaps, you can wait for some of your players to condition properly,” Chagla said. “At 21 players, that’s 21 different players that need to condition properly, that’s 21 players that need to get back into shape, get over their COVID and heal.”

Recovering from the virus is different from rehabbing after a sports injury.

“[A] lot of these guys, it sounds like, were in bed at home,” Chagla said. “You’re losing muscle mass; you’re losing that elite shape.”

WATCH | Vancouver Canucks sidelined by COVID-19:

The Vancouver Canucks have cancelled several upcoming games after a COVID-19 outbreak hit at least half the team’s roster. 1:59

When the first Canuck player tested positive last week, Vancouver’s next four games were postponed. The Canucks were scheduled to return to play Thursday in Calgary against the Flames. The Canucks’ website now says that game and another on Saturday in Calgary have been postponed.

The NHL season was originally scheduled to end May 8 but has already been extended to May 11 to allow for previously postponed games.

The Canucks have 19 regular season games remaining.

The cost of doing business

Corey Hirsch, a former NHL goaltender who is now a member of the Canucks’ radio broadcast team, worries about the physical strain forced on players if they are expected to play their remaining games in a condensed period of time after overcoming the virus.

“You are talking about the whole team,” he said. “You’re not only talking about one guy. My question would be if they are at risk of injury because of the physical shape they are in.”

Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University in Montreal, said the Canucks’ situation is a result of the NHL “not bubbling up for a season.”

“The NHL has accepted this is the cost of doing business,” said Lander.

Delaying the start of the playoffs creates problems for teams in the other three divisions, Lander said. The league also won’t want the playoffs extending into late July because of the Tokyo Summer Games.

Last year’s playoffs, which included a play-in round, began Aug. 1 and ended Sept. 28.

Lander predicts Vancouver might only play 50 games, which will impact other teams in the NHL’s North Division.

“A whole bunch of Canuck games are going to be cancelled, not going to be made up,” he said. “You’re cancelling games against the Oilers, or the Canadiens, or [other teams] that are playoff-bound so their ranking system is going to be disrupted.

“The NHL has protocols in place to determine tiebreakers. I’m assuming it’s just going to be best winning percentage. Everybody has played enough games at this point that you have a reasonable enough sample size to know who [the playoff teams] are.”

Even before the virus struck, Vancouver faced an uphill battle to make the playoffs.

Heading into Wednesday night, the Canucks (16-18-3) trailed Montreal by eight points for the final playoff spot in the North Division.

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Aguero, Man City’s record goal scorer, to leave club at end of season after 10 years

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City’s record scorer, will leave the English club after 10 years when his contract expires at the end of the season.

The 32-year-old Argentina striker has 257 goals for City, the most famous being his stoppage-time winner against Queens Parks Rangers on the final day of the 2011-12 season that clinched the team its first league title in 44 years.

A key player in the growth of the Abu Dhabi-owned club as a major force in England and Europe, Aguero has struggled with injuries over the past year and been restricted to just 14 appearances in all competitions this season. The penalty he converted against Fulham on March 13 was his 181st goal in the Premier League but his first in the division since January 2020.

In a Twitter post on Monday to his 14 million followers, Aguero said he had a “huge sense of satisfaction and pride” about playing for City for a decade and is ready to “continue competing at the highest level.”

“Sergio’s contribution to Manchester City over the last 10 years cannot be overstated,” club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said. “His legend will be indelibly etched into the memories of everyone who loves the club and maybe even in those who simply love football.”

Al Mubarak said a statue of Aguero has been commissioned to stand alongside those currently being made to honour the player’s former teammates, David Silva and Vincent Kompany.

That trio, along with midfielder Yaya Toure, were central to City’s success over the past decade.

Aguero, who joined from Atletico Madrid in 2011, scored at least 28 goals in all competitions in six straight seasons for City and will go down as one of the greatest strikers to have played in the Premier League.

He is the league’s highest-scoring overseas player. His haul of 181 puts him fourth on the all-time scoring list, behind Alan Shearer (260), Wayne Rooney (208) and Andy Cole (187).

Aguero also has a Premier League-high 12 hat tricks.

Aguero said he forged “an indestructible bond with all those who love this club — people who will always be in my heart.”

“I will continue to give it my utmost for the rest of the season to win more titles and bring more joy to the fans,” Aguero said in his Twitter post. “Then, a new stage with new challenges will begin.”

City is on course for the “quadruple” this season, as it leads the Premier League by 14 points, has reached the final of the English League Cup, the semifinals of the FA Cup, and the quarterfinals of the Champions League — a trophy Aguero has yet to win at the club.

He has, though, won the Premier League four times, the League Cup five times, and the FA Cup once.

Aguero was able to change his game to fit in with the style of play demanded by Pep Guardiola after the Spanish coach took charge of City in 2016. He transformed himself into more of an all-round player, with the ability to drop deeper and link up play, but never lost his fearsome ball-striking and poacher qualities inside the area.

Aguero has previously spoken about returning to Argentina to finish his career with former club Independiente.

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Wilfried Nancy named head coach of CF Montreal, team to start season in Florida

After overhauling their name and look, CF Montreal have announced their latest adjustments — a new coach and a new temporary home.

The club announced Monday that former assistant coach Wilfried Nancy has been promoted to the top job. He takes over from Thierry Henry, who resigned last month citing family reasons.

“I’m not going to lie — soccer, football, it is my passion,” Nancy told reporters Monday. “For me, this is a good step.”

Montreal also announced it will open the season playing home games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., because of border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy, a 43-year-old Frenchman, has been an assistant coach with the first team since 2016, and said he wants to build on what the group accomplished last season.

Montreal finished the regular season with a 8-13-2, good for ninth spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. The club — known as the Montreal Impact before a rebrand in January — made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, but was eliminated by the New England Revolution in the play-in round.

‘We’re going to be a good team’

The team established a style of play last year, Nancy said.

“We will continue that style of play,” he said. “We’re going to be a good team, proactive, dynamic and we will be able also to put produce on the opposition.”

Working under Henry — formerly a marquee striker with Arsenal in the English Premier League — was an illuminating experience, Nancy said.

“I worked with a champion,” he said. “Thierry was a star as a player and I understood why he was a star,.”

Henry was a demanding coach who found it hard to accept that players would make mistakes, but he also set a strong example for the team, Nancy said.

“For me, it was good to learn from Thierry about the desire to win and the desire to succeed,” he said. “This is the first time that I can see that close to me.”

CF Montreal announced on Feb. 25 that Henry was stepping down after a single season as the club’s head coach.

There was a lot of interest in the job from people across Europe and North America, sporting director Olivier Renard said. While he declined to say who else was considered, Renard added that the pandemic wasn’t an obstacle in the hiring process.

What set Nancy apart from other applicants was his determination and his familiarity with the club, Renard said.

“I know his philosophy, I know what he wants to do for the club. And the club knows also what he makes the last 10 years of the club,” he said.

“It’s not only we gave him the chance, he deserved the chance also.”

While’s Nancy’s contract is for one year, Renard said in French that the new coach doesn’t have a sword hanging over his head.

Nancy said he understands the situation and is OK with it.

“I have to do my job now as a coach to go forward,” he said.

Experience developing young talent

Before joining the first team as an assistant coach, Nancy worked as a coach in the club’s academy system.

His experience developing young talent is part of what makes Nancy a good fit for the head coach role, Renard said.

“One of the best qualities of Wil is his communication with young guys,” he said. “We need that.”

Assistant coaches Kwame Ampadu and Laurent Ciman, goalkeeper coach Remy Vercoutre and fitness coach Jules Gueguen will complete Nancy’s staff.

The newly minted coach and his team opened training camp in Montreal last week, but will soon make the move to a warmer locale.

Club to play in Fort Lauderdale

The club announced Monday that it will begin its season in Florida, playing at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and using Inter Miami CF’s facilities for daily training.

CF Montreal is set to move south on April 6 and plans to play two pre-season games in Florida before the MLS season begins on April 17.

The club will have ample Canadian company in the Sunshine State. The Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC are all playing in Florida due to border restrictions and the Canadian national men’s soccer team also will play a home World Cup qualifying game in the state.

The restrictions forced all three Canadian MLS teams to move south last season. Montreal finished out the year in Harrison, N.J., sharing a stadium with the New York Red Bulls.

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Toronto FC set to join Raptors, Jays down south to open season

Toronto FC will open the 2021 regular season in Florida due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Tampa has been mentioned as a possible home. The MLS club also has ties to Orlando, having held training camp there in the past.

“We are preparing to open the MLS regular season in Florida, just finalizing our location,” team president Bill Manning said in a text to The Canadian Press.

“Reality is we are preparing to open in Florida as it seems unrealistic we’ll be able to host at home in April. If the government opens things up for us we would immediately pivot back to BMO [Field] but for now we’re preparing to start down south.”

The regular season is scheduled to kick off April 17.

TFC won’t be the only Toronto team in Florida. The Raptors are set to play the entire NBA season in Tampa while the Blue Jays announced this week they will play their first two homestands of the season in their spring-training home of Dunedin, just west of Tampa.

The Jays will review the situation after that, with a return to Buffalo, N.Y. (where they played most of their home games in 2020) a possible next step if coming back to Toronto remains out of the question.

TFC opened camp under the bubble Wednesday at its north Toronto training centre. The league granted TFC permission to start early to prepare for the Canadian Championship final against Hamilton’s Forge FC, a matchup whose date has yet to be announced.

The winner will advance to play Mexico’s Club Leon on April 7 in the first leg of a round-of-16 series in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF’s flagship club competition.

TFC played just four games at BMO Field last year, finishing out the season in East Hartford, Conn. Pandemic-related border restrictions also forced Vancouver and Montreal to move, to Portland and Harrison, N.J, respectively.

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It’s world championships season for winter Olympic sports

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Quick note before we get started: no newsletter tomorrow or on the holiday Monday. Back Tuesday.

It’s winter world championships season

Several winter Olympic sports are holding their world championships right now. Here’s what’s going on:

Speed skating

The worlds opened today at the same oval in the Netherlands where Canadians won 11 medals in the two meets that made up the pandemic-shortened World Cup season. Canada got off to a slow start — its best result today was a fifth by Isabelle Weidemann in the women’s 3,000 metres.

But tomorrow could be a huge day with strong Canadian medal contenders in three of the four events. Canada won both World Cup races in the women’s team pursuit and finished second and third in the two men’s team pursuits. Laurent Dubreuil reached the podium in three of the four men’s 500-metre races this season. Watch Friday’s races live from 9 a.m. to noon ET here.

Alpine skiing

Rough weather in northern Italy forced the start of the worlds to be delayed by three days. But they finally got going today and Canada’s Brodie Seger had the race of his life. The 25-year-old, who had never finished in the top 12 of a World Cup or world championship race, came just four hundredths of a second — shorter than a blink of an eye — from winning a medal. He finished fourth in the men’s super-G, which was won by Vincent Kriechmayr for the Austrian’s first world title.

The women’s super-G also went to a first-time world champ from Switzerland: Lara Gut-Behrami, who had previously won five medals at the worlds and another at the Olympics, but none of them gold. Defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin took bronze in her first speed race (super-G or downhill) in more than a year. Marie-Michele Gagnon was the top Canadian, finishing sixth.

The next events are the downhills. Watch the women’s Saturday at 5 a.m. ET and the men’s Sunday at 5 a.m. ET here.

Snowboard and ski cross

Canadian teenager Eliot Grondin won his first world-championship medal today by taking bronze in the men’s snowboard cross event. No Canadians advanced past the quarter-finals in the women’s competition.

The snowboard cross team event goes tomorrow. Watch it live at 6:30 a.m. ET here.

The ski cross world championships are Saturday. Canada’s Reece Howden has won three of the last four men’s World Cup races and leads the season standings. Marielle Thompson ranks second in the women’s chase and has reached the podium in five of the last six events. Watch the world championship races Saturday starting at 6:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Bobsleigh and skeleton

They opened last week with the great German pilot Francesco Friedrich winning his seventh consecutive world title in the two-man event and Kaillie Humphries grabbing her record fourth women’s gold. Her first two (in 2012 and ’13) came while competing for Canada, but she’s won the last two women’s world titles for the U.S. after a bitter falling out with the Canadian program led to her departure.

The skeleton competitions opened today with the first two runs of the men’s and women’s events. The top Canadian was Jane Channell, who’s seventh heading into the final two legs tomorrow.

Canada will have a better shot at a medal in the four-man bobsleigh event, where pilot Justin Kripps’ sled ranks third in the World Cup standings. That race begins Saturday and finishes Sunday. Same for the women’s monobob — an event that’s being added to the Olympics next year. Watch all the bobsleigh and skeleton world championship races live here.

Sainte-Marie, Quebec’s Eliot Grondin captured a world championship bronze medal in snowboard cross Thursday in Idre Fjäll, Sweden. 4:59


The head of the Tokyo Olympics is reportedly stepping down. Organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori got himself in trouble last week when he complained that meetings with a lot of women in them “take so much time” and that “if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.” The 83-year-old later issued a ham-fisted apology, but calls for his resignation were still trending on Japanese Twitter today and female politicians wore white to a House of Representatives session to protest Mori’s sexist remarks. Also — and this is probably what really did Mori in — some big Olympic sponsors criticized him after being threatened with boycotts. According to several reports in Japan, Mori will resign tomorrow. Read more about the controversy here.

The Raptors are staying in Tampa for the rest of the season. They’d hoped to return to Toronto for the second half, but ongoing border restrictions and the general pandemic situation forced them to give up on that. Playing out of Tampa’s Amalie Arena, the Raptors started the season 2-8 but have improved since. At 12-13 they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and can get to .500 with a win at Boston tonight. Maybe some of the “Champa Bay” vibes are rubbing off. Tampa is now home to the reigning Super Bowl and Stanley Cup champions and, by the looks of things, everyone there is living their best life.

Someone in Australia really dislikes Rafael Nadal. A woman was thrown out of his Australian Open match today for heckling Nadal and giving him the finger. It didn’t throw him off: the gentlemanly Spaniard seemed genuinely amused (“Maybe she took too much gin or tequila,” he said later) and cruised to a straight-sets win. Meanwhile, defending women’s champion Sofia Kenin found herself on the wrong side of a blowout, falling in just 64 minutes to 65th-ranked Kaia Kanepi. Tonight, Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime face each other in the men’s third round at 3 a.m. ET. The only other Canadian singles player remaining, Milos Raonic, plays at 1 a.m. ET. Watch video of Nadal’s strange encounter and read more about all the notable Day 4 action here.

And finally…

Remember The Rick Nash Goal? It happened in a Blue Jackets-Coyotes game in the dog days of the 2007-08 season, so there’s no real historical significance to it. But, for pure aesthetics, it’s tough to top Nash’s video-game-like moves to undress a pair of Coyotes defencemen before beating goalie Mikael Tellqvist. For a fresh perspective on one of the prettiest goals ever scored, check out the latest episode of Rob Pizzo’s terrific I was in net for… series. Tellqvist explains how the “sick” play unfolded from his point of view, and how he almost foiled it at the last second. Watch the video here:

In episode 12, Rob Pizzo speaks to goalie Mikael Tellqvist about the time the Blue Jackets star turned the Coyotes inside out. 5:55

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Raptors to keep calling Tampa home for rest of season

The Toronto Raptors will play all their home games in Tampa, Fla., this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NBA team said Thursday the team will complete its home schedule at Amalie Arena after initially announcing in November it would play half its home games in Tampa before making a decision on the second half of the season.

The Raptors say the decision was made because of border restrictions and public safety measures in Canada.

The lone NBA team from outside the U.S., the Raptors have joined several Canadian counterparts in having to play south of the border during the pandemic.

Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC (East Hartford, Conn.), CF Montreal (Harrison, N.J.) and Vancouver Whitecaps (Portland) relocated for partial or full seasons in 2020. Major League Rugby’s Toronto Arrows will start their 2021 season in Marietta, Ga.

A schedule release for the second half of the season is expected in the coming days.

City of champions

“Florida has been really welcoming to us and we’re so grateful for the hospitality we’ve found in Tampa and at Amalie — we’re living in a city of champions, and we intend to carry on the tradition of winning for our new friends and fans here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

“But home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Toronto. We think often of our fans, of our Scotiabank Arena family, and all those we are missing back home, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.”

The Raptors are 6-5 in their “home” building this season, which they’re sharing with the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa also has the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and the Rays played in the World Series last season.

There have been reports the Blue Jays are considering playing home games in nearby Dunedin, Fla., site of their spring-training complex, this season.

Logistical issue

The Raptors’ decision is hardly unexpected given the state of the pandemic in the U.S. and Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that starting next week any nonessential travellers arriving in Canada by land will need to show a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test or face a fine if they don’t have one.

That wouldn’t be an issue for NBA teams; travelling parties are tested daily, players multiple times a day.

The bigger issue is logistics. The land border already remains closed to nonessential travellers who are not Canadian citizens; Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days, which wouldn’t be feasible for NBA teams, and the Canadian government has also strongly discouraged nonessential travel for any reason.

Toronto made the move south last fall, knowing Thursday’s decision was a real possibility.

The Raptors tried to simulate the comforts the team has at home in Toronto, at least as much as possible. “We The North” — the team motto — signage is everywhere in the hotel that the Raptors are using as a practice facility in Tampa, from the elevator doors to the ballroom wall behind one of the baskets. The court that the Raptors use for games was shipped down from Toronto. And there’s a 2019 world championship banner swaying from the rafters, alongside the Lightning’s retired jerseys for Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, at the same end of the court as the Raptors’ bench.

“They did a great job,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said earlier this season.

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Canada’s Deanne Rose ready for ’emotional,’ whirlwind 2021 soccer season

In a span of two short weeks, Canadian soccer striker Deanne Rose went from getting ready for the second half of her senior year at the University of Florida, to being selected in the first round of the NWSL draft to learning she’d finally be reunited with her Canadian teammates for the first time in almost a year. 

Let’s just say 2021 has started off pretty well.  “I’m just really excited,” she said of being drafted 10th overall by the North Carolina Courage and being named to Canadian training camp for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Fla., an hour-and-45 minute drive south from her collegiate home in Gainesville, Fla.

“It’s going to be pretty emotional. We haven’t been together in so long,” Rose said of seeing her Canadian teammates in person. “I think it’s going to be a kind of ‘coming-home feeling.'”

Not only is it the first time the reigning two-time Olympic bronze medallists from Canada have been together in 11 months, it’s also the first time they’ll be under the watchful eye of new head coach Bev Priestman, who took over the position at the beginning of October. 

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler interview with Deanne Rose:

Deanne Rose speaks with Signa Butler about going in the first round of the NWSL draft, dealing with the pandemic, and the SheBelieves cup. 3:07

29 players for Feb. 6 camp

Priestman called 29 players to the Feb. 6 camp for the SheBelieves Cup, a four-team invitational tournament featuring some of the top nations in women’s soccer, including FIFA women’s World Cup champions, the United States and No. 8-ranked Brazil. This year, due to Covid restrictions, Canada (also No. 8) took the place of No. 6 England and Argentina (No. 31) is filling in for Japan (No. 10). 

The roster will be trimmed to 23 before Canada opens against its longtime rivals, the U.S. on Feb. 18.

Since making her senior team debut in 2015 at just 16, Rose, a native of Alliston, Ont., has gradually become a mainstay in the lineup and was a member of the 2019 World Cup team.

Known as an explosive, attacking player no matter which position she plays on the pitch, Rose enjoyed a breakout performance in Canada’s bronze-medal match versus Brazil at the Rio 2016 Olympics. 

Superb Olympic debut

Making the 11th start of her young career, Rose scored the game’s opening goal in the 24th minute, becoming the youngest to score in Olympic competition at age 17. She added an assist on Christine Sinclair’s eventual game winner and nearly added another goal, but hit the crossbar. It was a superb Olympic debut.

Rose, right, facing Jamaica goalie Sydney Schneider during a CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying soccer in 2020, is now a veteran on Canada’s national team. (Delcia Lopez/Associated Press)

“I was part of the 2016 Olympic staff where I felt Deanne was fantastic,” Priestman said on a recent call. “Not just on the pitch, either. What I’m learning through the last couple months being in this role is she gives some great insight and has a really good awareness of where the group’s at and what the group might need.

“Deanne, when she is fit, is absolutely outstanding and is a great addition to this group and a great threat for any team to defend against. [I’m a] big fan, big fan of Deanne.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some NCAA conferences chose to split their season into two parts — fall and spring. Rose was limited to half of the Gators’ eight fall games due to a nagging hamstring injury. Still, when she was available, she made an impact, scoring twice and assisting on two others in those four games.

The good news for Priestman is Rose is healthy and ready to go. 

“I’m cleared now and I haven’t been injured since the season,” Rose said, smiling ear to ear.  “I’m pretty excited to get back on the field injury-free and play freely.” 

Like many Olympic athletes, this past year hasn’t unfolded the way she’d hoped. Whether it was the ongoing global pandemic, the postponement of the Tokyo Games, heightened awareness around the Black Lives Matter movement, coaching changes on Team Canada and recently at Florida, and an injury in her senior year, Rose found strength in the lessons learned from Rio 2016.

“The lesson of this last year is you have to control what you can control and you have to be ready when you’re called upon. That was something that I learned in Rio. It doesn’t matter what your role is, you have to be ready to perform. No matter your age, no matter your status, anything like that, you’re part of this team.”

Rose, right celebrates the bronze medal with her parents after Canada’s victory against Brazil at the 2016 Rio Olympics. (Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

Next generation

That lesson really defines this Canadian team, one that the most experienced group of players established and have passed down to the next generations of players. The blend of older veterans (e.g. Christine Sinclair) with younger veterans (Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence), newer veterans (Rose) and now the fresh faces (six uncapped players invited to camp) keep the culture rolling.

“What I love about the Canadian program is they’re always willing to give younger, new faces an opportunity,” Rose said. “I think it’s great for our team to push everybody having new players come in. They have a fresh set of eyes. They’ve been watching for the last four, five years so they’re going to come in with new ideas as we all did in the past.”

For now, Rose is concentrating on her national team duties. After that, possibly joining the Courage, though that’s still up to be determined once she wraps up her senior season with the Gators. 

“I want to have the greatest impact I can on my teammates,” said Rose, a sociology major. “The Gator Nation is important to me as well, but if I can show my love and support for my teammates, then that’s the most important thing that I could leave behind.” 

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NWSL to hold Challenge Cup in April, start season in May

The National Women’s Soccer League will hold the preseason Challenge Cup tournament in local markets starting April 9.

The 10-team league, with Racing Louisville joining this season, is set to open its ninth season May 15.

Each team will play 24 games, with six reaching the playoffs. The regular season will end Oct. 30. The schedule for the Challenge Cup and the regular season will be released at a later date but there will be no break for the Olympics.

All teams must adhere to a rigorous pandemic protocols. Players must quarantine for seven days prior to competition and will be tested twice a week. Players or staff with confirmed COVID-19 cases must isolate for a minimum of 10 days.

Players who have medical permission by a team physician to opt out of the season will receive full pay and benefits.

Teams can open training camps next Monday.

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Canadian Premier League set to open 3rd season on Victoria Day weekend

The Canadian Premier League is targeting the Victoria Day long weekend in May as the kickoff for its third season.

However, the league acknowledges that will ultimately depend on local government and health authorities.

“Our plans call for the start of play this spring — while recognizing that a major factor will be our nation’s progress against this pandemic,” commissioner David Clanachan said in a letter to fans.

“Based on where we are right now, if health authorities say it is safe to do so, we are focused on targeting a start date of the Victoria Day long weekend [May 22, 2021] — Canada’s ‘unofficial start of summer.’ To that end, we will remain flexible but also adaptable in our planning. To be clear, our ultimate goal is to see our supporters in the stands as we take to the field.”

The league acknowledges opening the doors to any number of spectators again is a decision that will be made by others.

“It feels like we need to preface everything with at the end of the day the government and health authorities rule here. As they should, for all the right reasons,” Clanachan said in an interview.

Clanachan holds out the hope that Canada — and the world — “will look a lot different than it does today” because of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He says the CPL board has discussed what might happen if fans remain barred but has made no decision.

“As you can imagine there’s concerns on both side of the equation,” he said.

Hopes for the new season

While gate revenue is “huge” for the CPL, Clanachan said league owners are committed to getting the season in. “They understand how important it is that we play.”

“We’re still an infant league. although we tend to want to punch above our weight”

The hope is to have each of the eight teams play a normal 28-game season with the league currently looking at a number of scheduling models. Options include sticking to shorter trips earlier in the season to reduce travel and to package away games to be efficient.

A schedule could be released in a month or so, he said.

The 2020 season was originally slated to run from April 11 to Oct. 4. The pandemic shelved that plan with the league eventually playing the Island Games, a truncated tournament in Charlottetown, from Aug. 13 to Sept. 6.

The 2019 inaugural regular season ran April 27 to Oct. 19, divided into spring and fall campaigns.

Hamilton’s Forge FC won the league title both years.

Clanachan said the league continues to talk with “a number of groups” interested in expansion despite the pandemic. But he says the time is not right given the pandemic.

Push for younger Canadian talent

The CPL has also announced that young Canadians will see more action in 2021 with clubs now required to give at least 1,500 minutes of combined playing time to domestic players under the age of 21.

The requirement previously for U-21 players was 1,000 minutes (pro-rated to 250 minutes at the Island Games). As before, CPL clubs must have at least three U-21 Canadian players signed on their rosters. The rule covers player born Jan. 1, 2000 or later.

The league says the U-21 minutes requirement was met or exceeded by all clubs. In 2020, Winnipeg’s Valour FC led the way with a total of 1,532 minutes. In 2019, Pacific FC recorded 13,532 minutes.

The league says it provided 43,000 minutes of playing time to young Canadians across its first two seasons.

“Part of the mission of the Canadian Premier League is to foster the growth of young Canadian soccer players,” James Easton, the league’s vice-president of football operations, said in a statement.

“The success to date of our under-21 player minutes is a testament to the quality that exists across Canada, which is now being served in a meaningful way by the opportunities provided by the CPL and is why we have decided to increase the minutes for young Canadian players.”

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