By Celia Balf
Utah Royals FC make their NWSL debut this season following a busy offseason filled with logo, jersey and locker room reveals, blockbuster signings, and naming two-time NWSL Coach of the Year Laura Harvey the new team’s first-ever coach.
The regular season will feature 12-home games for Utah with five Saturday afternoon matches televised nationally from Rio Tinto Stadium as the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Utah has a lot to be excited about roster-wise, particularly the club’s first official signing of Sauerbrunn. Sauerbrunn also earned all the likes from the 2018 NWSL GM and Media Surveys as she was named the best defender in the NWSL, best leader and the player general managers and media members would most like to see become a future head coach.
Utah Royals FC kick off their 2018 season on the road against Orlando Pride on March 24, and then get to welcome the Chicago Red Stars to Rio Tinto Stadium for their inaugural home opener on April 14.
Head coach: Laura Harvey
Home stadium: Rio Tinto Stadium
After joining the NWSL, Utah inherited the players from FC Kansas City’s roster, which ceased operations last fall. They also held all of FCKC’s former 2018 draft spots. Here are the key players added to the roster who were not with FCKC in 2017:
O’Hara is a huge addition to Utah, especially given her versatility. O’Hara will likely be used defensively in Utah, however given Harvey’s coaching style and O’Hara’s skill to get up and down the flank, there will likely be a lot of room to see O’Hara’s pace and distribution in the final third. With Sky Blue FC, she scored 15 goals in 75 games.
Utah’s roster has three goalkeepers currently, in long-time FCKC’s Barnhart along with the new additions of Abby Smith (picked up in the Boston Breakers dispersal draft) and 2018 NWSL College Draft selection EJ Proctor out of Duke University. Barnhart holds the experience over both young keepers, however Smith made quite a splash in 2017 earning a starting role in Boston and being named to the U.S. women’s national team roster in May in a set of friendlies against Sweden and Norway.Key Departures
A four-player trade sent Christina Gibbons, Shea Groom and the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft to Sky Blue FC, in exchange for O’Hara, Lytle and the third pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. Gibbons was drafted to FCKC in the 2017 NWSL College Draft and in her rookie season she appeared in 24 games, earning 23 starts. The former Duke Blue Devil scored one goal and added three assists in her first NWSL season. Groom was drafted 12th overall by FCKC in the 2015 NWSL College Draft out of Texas A&M and went on to be named the team’s rookie of the year after scoring four goals and adding two assists in her first NWSL season. With FCKC, Groom had 17 career goals and eight assists.
By the Numbers
Barnhart joins Utah Royals FC after appearing for FCKC 108 times. Last season, she started in 24 games for FCKC and recorded a 75.8 save percentage with six shutouts. Smith will also be competing for that No. 1 goalkeeping position in Utah after starting in 19 games for the Boston Breakers and posting a 72.6 save percentage with three clean sheets last year.
Amy Rodriguez joins Utah after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in FCKC’s opening game last year. Rodriguez also missed 2016 to give birth to her second child. During her time in the league, Rodriguez has recorded 26 goals in her 38 regular season appearances. In 2014, she scored 13 goals, which was a league second-best in scoring, behind Seattle Reign FC’s Kim Little.
Midfielder Desiree Scott will add depth to the Utah midfield, especially in her ability to distribute the ball. In 2017, Scott held a 82.73% passing accuracy, sixth in the NWSL (minimum 600 passes.)
In terms of creating offensive opportunities this season, O’Hara will be a good bet given her crossing accuracy and big chances created. In 2017 with Sky Blue FC O’Hara had 13 open successful crosses which turned into eight big chances for her team. O’Hara’s attacking ability down the flank will be sure to make Utah dangerous on the counter and in the final service.
Head Coach Laura Harvey
Games to Watch Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals FC
Saturday, March 24 | go90 | 7:30 p.m. ET
Utah Royals FC will kick off its inaugural NWSL season on Saturday, March 24 against the Orlando Pride at 7:30 p.m. ET at Orlando City Stadium.
Utah Royals FC vs. Chicago Red Stars
Saturday, April 14 | Lifetime | 3:30 p.m. ET
Utah Royals FC will play for the first time at Rio Tinto Stadium in their second match of the 2018 NWSL regular season. Utah will face the Chicago Red Stars who finished last season in fourth place last season with 39 points.
Utah Royals FC vs. Seattle Reign FC
Wednesday, June 27 | go90 | 10 p.m. ET
Laura Harvey will get to put her new team to the test against a familiar side. Harvey coached Seattle Reign FC from 2013-2017 and led the team to back-to-back NWSL Shields in 2014 and 2015. Those two years she was also named NWSL Coach of the Year. Seattle Reign FC is coached by Vlatko Andonovski, who previously coached FC Kansas City from 2013-2017.
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Roster (as of 3/19)
Goalkeepers (2): Nicole Barnhart, Abby Smith (DD)
Midfielders (10): Gunhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir (INTL-ICE), Maegan Kelly (INTL-CAN), Lo’eau LaBonta, Mandy Laddish, Taylor Lytle, Diana Matheson (FED-CAN), Alexa Newfield, Desiree Scott (FED-CAN), Erika Tymrak, Katrina Gorry (INTL-AUS)
Federations Players (FED): 5
International Roster Spots Filled (INTL): 5