Additional reporting by Meg Linehan
Sandy, Utah — It wasn’t the result they hoped for, but Utah joined the NWSL in style, with a large and loud home crowd for Utah Royals FC on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think it’s 100 million thousand people here,” a young girl in the crowd said during the first half.
It wasn’t quite that many people, but the crowd of 19,203 was good enough to be one of the largest in NWSL history, behind only the Orlando Pride’s 2016 home opener and several Portland Thorns FC games. After a few days of snow and cold, the sun came out with temperatures in the 50s for the game. Rachel Platten sang the national anthem — complete with a helicopter flyover — and held a postgame concert.
“The crowd was amazing. Unbelievable. For us to come out to this size of a crowd is great,” Utah coach Laura Harvey said after the game. “Everything around the game has been phenomenal in terms of build up.”
Utah Royals FC and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen flew in family members for every player on the team — with family members coming in from across the country and across the globe. Katie Bowen’s family was traveling in from New Zealand and Rachel Corsie family traveled from Scotland, to name a few.
Sydney Miramontez’s mother Jane, her father, sisters Sinclaire and Sierra, Sydney’s boyfriend and Sierra’s boyfriend, all came in from Kansas City to see her play on Saturday. Miramontez subbed in for Kelley O’Hara to start the second half and played the final 45 minutes.
“I don’t even have words yet. This is the most amazing thing we’ve ever been a part of. Women’s soccer has gone to a whole new level. Coming from Kansas City, this is top of the line. Amazing. Everything has just been wonderful and we’ve been treated so nicely. We just want it to grow and NWSL [to] just continue,” Jane Miramontez said before the game.
“This is the right way to do it. We just want Utah to be the model for everybody else to step up and say hey, this is what the women’s soccer program needs to be.”
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 14, 2018
Before the game, every Utah player received a scarf from their supporters group, The Court, and after the game the players saluted the fans who made their voices heard all game.
“It was incredible. Can’t thank the people of Utah enough, the front office, for all the work they did to get people in the stands and just people showing up,” O’Hara said.
“Obviously not the result we wanted. We want to give the fans wins every time we come here, especially the number we got today. That’s my whole focus going forward. I think it’s the team’s as well. The atmosphere was incredible and I’m hoping it stays that way this whole season and that we can start to produce for the fans.”
Red Stars midfielder Danielle Colaprico scored the first NWSL goal at Rio Tinto Stadium, a stunning volley that silenced that near-capacity crowd.
“The atmosphere is unreal. It’s awesome. I think the only other place we really experience that is Portland. So it’s great to see that the league is growing. It was amazing being out there. It’s very surreal,” she said.
While the crowd and the atmosphere were strong, there are still things to work on for Utah Royals FC on the field. Saturday’s goal was only the first goal conceded in the run of play by Utah in three games this season — but they also have not scored since the third minute of the first game. They’ve been shutout for 267 straight minutes since their first goal.
“I think it was OK. I think we’ve got … a few more levels that we can get to,” Utah defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. “I think we need to add a little bit more sophistication. I think we had a little bit more time on the ball than we thought we did. I do think we had chances. I think if we put one of those on goal, maybe one goes in against [Red Stars goalkeeper] Alyssa [Naeher]. I think it was pretty good, but I know that we have better.”
They got a boost on offense on Saturday when Amy Rodriguez returned to the field, looking dangerous at times in her 13 minutes of action. She received the loudest ovation of the afternoon when she subbed in for just her second game in the last two years. Including the playoffs, Rodriguez has scored 26 goals in 39 NWSL appearances.
“Hurry up and get fit, that’s what I thought. Hurry up and get to 90 minutes as quickly as possible,” Harvey said when asked what she thought of Rodriguez’s performance on Saturday.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 14, 2018
Utah will play their next home game in two weeks, vs. defending champions Portland Thorns FC. The club reports 5,000 season ticket holders and Portland fans will likely travel, so it should be another fun game. Until then, it’s a road trip to the first place North Carolina Courage to try to get their first win.
But Saturday afternoon’s game was the start of something.
“The environment was unbelievable,” Sauerbrunn said. “Kudos to Utah for showing up and supporting us. It was something special today. I feel like I was part of something special. It’s disappointing that we didn’t get the win to kind of add to the wonderful day. But to play in front of a crowd like that. … This is why we play soccer. It was wonderful.”