Utah Royals FC Preview: Can They be a Contender?


The Utah Royals FC are the newest NWSL team on the scene. However, after a quick game of musical chairs this fall, the team secured an experienced head coach and a veteran lineup.

On November 7, the Seattle Reign announced that Laura Harvey was stepping down and FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski would take her place. Nine days later, MLS owner Dell Loy Hansen announced women’s professional soccer would arrive to the Salt Lake Valley in 2018. 

By November 20, the league ceased operations of FC Kansas City and announced players would be reallocated to the Utah franchise. Seven days later, Harvey was named the new coach of the yet-to-be-named franchise.

Come March 24, the Royals will open their inaugural season against the Orlando Pride. Here is what you need to know about Harvey and company. 

Head Coach: Laura Harvey (First season with Utah, sixth season in NWSL)

2017 record: FC Kansas record 8-9-7

Projected Starting XI:

Goalkeeper: Nicole Barnhart

Defenders: Kelley O’Hara, Rachel Corsie, Becky Sauerbrunn, Becca Moros

Midfielders: Lo’eau LaBonta, Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott

Forwards: Amy Rodriguez, Katie Stengel, Brittany Ratcliffe

Player you should know:

Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson is definitely a player every women’s soccer fan should know. She was an integral part of the success of the Washington Spirit club that made its first NWSL Championship appearance in 2016.  She signed with the Seattle Reign last year but missed the 2017 season after tearing her ACL (left knee) playing with Canada last February. Matheson returned to the Canadian National Team for the 2018 Algarve Cup and followed Harvey from Seattle to Salt Lake City.

Under the Radar:

Taylor Lytle collected five assists for Sky Blue FC last season. She is deceptively quick and crafty in the midfield. “She is a player I have admired for a while now,” said Harvey in a December press release. “In Taylor, we have a player who has been a stalwart for Sky Blue over five seasons; whenever I would coach against her, she would always cause my team problems, so I’m now very glad that we are on the same team … we expect that bringing in someone like Taylor who has such a great attitude for the game will only enhance our roster.”

Biggest offseason acquisition:

Kelley O’Hara coming over from Sky Blue FC was the largest get for the team formerly known as FCKC. O’Hara has proven she can play anywhere on the pitch and make an impact. Sky Blue FC often relied on O’Hara’s versatility. It will be interesting to see how Harvey utilizes O’Hara. She is fast, fit and an absolute tank of a player.

Biggest rival:

Harvey and Vlatko Andonovski have essentially swapped teams. Andonovski led five of the current Utah Royals to back-to-back championships in 2014-15. Additionally, Andonovski may have something to prove after two disappointing seasons. If he can keep the Reign in the top five teams, it is very possible that those June and July match-ups versus Utah will be important. 

Most memorable moment from 2017:

N/A, unless being relocated counts.

Why they’re the team to watch in 2018:

First, one look at the roster and one notices big names in the game. Canadian Olympic medalists Desiree Scott and Diana Matheson (2012) join American Olympians Nicole Barnhart (2008, 2012), Becky Sauerbrunn (2012, 2016), Amy Rodriguez (2008, 2012) and Kelly O’Hara (2012) for a star-studded roster. The latter three are also reigning FIFA World Cup Champions.

Additionally, Harvey has secured her lineup with solid role players such as Becca Moros, Corsie and Taylor Lytle. This team has enough stars to be a contender, but also has a good balance of role players to grind out the ups and downs of an NWSL season.

Harvey is a masterful coach with two NWSL Shields for the Seattle Reign. She led her team to two-consecutive NWSL postseason appearances. Additionally, the Utah Royals franchise has invested a great deal of resources in its newest team. From facilities to vehicles for the players, the Royals are investing in women’s soccer in America like no other club.

Predicted finish:

It’s reasonable to expect a solid performance from the Royals. However, with all the trades in the offseason, they are not the only team with significant roster changes.  Harvey does not have a top five 2017 goal scorer on her squad. However, Barnhart led the league in saves (97) last season.

I expect this team to be middle of the pack with a chance at the playoffs. So, in numerical terms, I have them finishing sixth. Although, this may be a conservative prediction.

Success depends on:

Staying healthy. Both Matheson and Rodriguez are coming off major injuries. Sauerbrunn has also missed time with the National Team due to injury. Utah is missing a superstar in the true sense of the word. This is a team likely to work best when all its players are at peak performance. 

Fun prediction:

In case you didn’t know, Broon is a gamer!  She is especially fond of Tomb Raider and recently participated in the #TombRaiderTraining challenge. I predict she will continue to film video game or movie-inspired training sessions throughout the season. Honestly, who doesn’t want to see that?

Image courtesy of the Utah Royals FC
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