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Melbourne City wins W-League trophy in last live soccer for a while

It was an NWSL star-studded affair but the stands were empty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Melbourne City won its fourth W-League title Saturday, becoming the winningest club in league history with a 1-0 win over Sydney FC.

A goal from Steph Catley, the OL Reign player, was the difference. In the 15th minute, Catley played a one-two with Emily Van Egmond and then ripped a shot from the edge of the box. Sydney goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, known to NWSL fans as the starting goalkeeper for the Washington Spirit, got a palm to it but not strong enough — the parried effort knocked the ball back into the net.

Though Melbourne ultimately prevailed on a goalkeeping error, City was indeed the better side on the day, attacking in waves while Sydney rarely looked threatening.

“Today was a battle — Sydney really took it to us,” said Catley, who was named the player of the match. “At the end of the day, I think we deserved it and we got the job day even though it was a tough game.”

The match was a rare bit of live soccer at a time when the sport has been at a standstill over the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. From Major League Soccer and Liga MX to the English Premier League and the Bundesliga, leagues around the world have all suspended games.

Saturday’s match was played in an empty stadium, AAMI Park, which seats about 30,000, making for a cavernous surrounding and a subdued atmosphere for a match called the “Grand Final.” The ceremony afterward where the players received medals conspicuously featured none of the usual handshaking — players had to put the medals around their own necks.

The match featured nine different NWSL players who now don’t know when they’ll play soccer again. The NWSL has pushed its start date back, but to when exactly is still unclear. The season was supposed to begin April 18.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has infected hundreds of thousands of people in 177 countries or territories, and killed around 10,000.

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