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Covering Sport in a Global Pandemic: A Breakdown of My Trip to the NWSL Challenge Cup Semi Finals

(Note: I won't go into all of the detail, but I want to make it clear that I wouldn't have made this trip if I hadn't been extremely careful before, during, and after this trip. I accept that this was unnecessary travel. I took every possible precaution.)

At the beginning of the NWSL Challenge Cup, I received a Slack message from the Backline Overlord asking if I would be interested in media credentials to cover a game or two. My first thought was "heck yeah!" and the second thought was "wow my calendar is packed this month!"

Fortunately, I was able to find a combination that worked for me to have credentials to attend the semifinal matches. This is what the day looked like for me:

(All times are in mountain time and use a 24-hour clock. Sorry, not sorry. The one true timezone and the superior way to represent time.)

05:15 - Alarm clock goes off and is very quickly met with a small degree of curses before being told to snooze.

05:24 - Alarm makes a second attempt to awake me. This time I comply.

06:10 - After completing the day's hygiene tasks, I pack up my backpack, load up the car, and hit the road. Breakfast is acquired from a gas station, since all good road trips start with gas station food. I also start the road trip playlist, which I've made available on Spotify and Apple Music if you're interested.

09:39 - After a brief bathroom stop in a little town at the border of Idaho and Utah, I arrive at the always glorious Rio Tinto Stadium. As I arrive I don a mask, get my temperature checked, am surveyed about any potential symptoms, and am taken into the stadium.

I can not express enough how professional and well executed this was by the Real Salt Lake and NWSL staff. As I navigated through the stadium it was very clear where I was and wasn't allowed to go. Everyone was in masks and there was a hand sanitizer station almost every 10 yards. It was one of the most brilliant executions of "what everyone should be doing" I've seen yet.

10:00 - I settle into my spot in the press box for the next 2+ hours and strap in for the Portland Thorns v Houston Dash match. If you're interested in reliving it (including sandwich review time), you can find that thread on twitter.

12:34 - The match ends with the Houston Dash moving forward in the tournament. I now have ~7 hours to kill before I need to be back for the next semi final match. I decide to head into downtown Salt Lake, grab some lunch, and plan my next move. It begins to rain as I'm walking out of the stadium.

13:30 - I make it into downtown and stop by the Real Salt Lake/Utah Royals team store. Decide I'm not about to spend $100 on a jacket, even though I really want it, and decide to go find lunch. Lunch is, of course, Thai food from a place called Laan Na Thai. If you're in or near Salt Lake, you need to go here.

14:09 - This is where the day literally goes on and off the rails. I decide that since it's rainy and everything is in different stages of closed, I'll hop on public transit and mess around for a bit. I end up in Provo. On the way back, I miss a train which kicks off a series of unfortunate events:

  • I order an iced mocha from a "bakery" and end up with blended chocolate milk

  • I miss a train on the way back to Salt Lake

  • I catch a later train

  • The later train makes me late for a connecting train

  • I have to get an Uber to get back to my car (shouts to Christina, best Uber driver ever)

  • I get back to my car to find the doors closed on the parking garage so I can't get to it

  • I make a series of difficult phone calls to find someone to help me get back into my car

  • I hustle back to the Rio Tinto Stadium just in time to make it to my seat and get setup for kick off

19:45 - I strap back in for the Chicago Red Stars versus Sky Blue FC match. I again will refer you to part 1 and part 2 of my twitter thread (including burrito corner) for the next couple of hours.

22:14 - The match ends Chicago 3, Sky Blue 2 after an absolutely WILD last 20 minutes or so. I head back into the car and point it back towards home.

23:14 - Stop for gas, candy, and two cans of Red Bull.

02:05 - Pull into my driveway, lump my way into the house, find a pillow, and go to sleep. 491 miles covered and around 21 hours awake.

Thus ends the longest day ever. Thanks for going on this journey with me. With any luck, we can just go back to watching live soccer without going through all of these hoops. It was neat to see live soccer again, but it's definitely lacking when you're sitting by yourself in a nearly empty stadium.

Wear a mask, stay home if you can, let's do this together.