While the Philadelphia Union are gearing up for a return to play in the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida, another local team is preparing for a return to competition in a tournament in Texas.
Lancaster Inferno is one of a select number of teams participating in the United Women’s Soccer National Cup.
Francisco Cleaves, head coach and president of the Lancaster County club, is excited for the opportunity that the tournament will present for his team, which won back-to-back Eastern Conference championships in 2018 and 2019 and made it all the way to the league final in 2018.
“It gives us something to shoot for with the regular season postponed,” he said. “And within the team, you have to have a goal in mind.”
The Inferno, along with their competition, will play a format similar to the MLS is Back tournament, with each team playing three games, with the top teams moving on to compete in the semifinals, then a championship match. Fans will not be allowed to watch the games in person, but all games will be streamed live.
When the team arrives in Texas, Cleaves says their schedule will, by design, not include much beyond soccer.
“Basically, they’re going to be staying in a college campus, with separate floors for each team,” he said. “[They can do] a light workout before the first game, you know, there’s some walking trails and stuff that they can go through but… no sightseeing.”
The league is also working with medical professionals to minimize the risk to players like Dr. Martha Pyron, MD and Medicine in Motion to keep players healthy throughout their time in Texas.
Given that United Women’s Soccer is a small league, the league and Cleaves see the tournament as an opportunity to stay in touch with sponsors and players.
“For us, it’s really about staying engaged with our team, with our sponsors; we rely on our sponsors to pay for travel and all that,” Cleaves said. “But, most importantly, it lets the player get back from the field.”
With the tournament fast approaching, Cleaves is excited to continue his league’s mission to grow the women’s game and help his players.
“A lot of our players that come through our team, even though we’re a small club, they’ll have gone to Europe to play; and we’re really proud of providing that opportunity for them,” he said. “So that’s really the end game for us as a bright opportunity for their continued development and ensure that we have a platform for them.”
The schedule of games hasn’t been released but you can learn more about the league and the competition at uwssoccer.com and Lancaster Inferno at lancasterinferno.com.