I think there is a real buzz around the community. Sounds like the tickets are selling well for the home opener. We’ve always said it’s our job now to put on a show. —Utah Royals FC coach Laura Harvey
Shortly after being hired as the first head coach of Utah Royals FC and relocating to the Beehive State, Laura Harvey was out shopping for a new TV when something happened that amazed her.
While in the store, three people, clearly recognizing her, approached and asked if she was, in fact, the leader of the new National Women’s Soccer League squad. It was something Harvey said had never happened to her before, even after she spent five seasons and won two NWSL Coach of the Year awards with the Seattle Reign.
Harvey’s experience that day falls in line with seemingly countless others since the Royals came to be last November which indicates that fans are getting on board with the club as it prepares for its inaugural home opener on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Chicago Red Stars.
“I think there is a real buzz around the community,” Harvey said earlier this week after her team trained at America First Field in Sandy. “Sounds like the tickets are selling well for the home opener. We’ve always said it’s our job now to put on a show.”
Perhaps Harvey’s second observation is the best proof of the first. Team officials said that as of Wednesday, they’d neared a sellout for Saturday, with standing room only tickets going on sale later in the day. As for the entire 12-game home slate, roughly 5,000 season tickets have been sold.
“We just feel like it’s a great soccer community, and we always felt — and we try to say this to everyone — that it can be as big as RSL here in the community, and we were committed to doing that,” chief business officer Andy Carroll told the Deseret News.
But just who makes up the soccer community in Utah? As one might expect, there’s a large cross-section of people who are throwing their support behind URFC, from the most rabid of fans who will be in the supporters section at the Riot to young girls whose parents want to give them a chance to see world-class women’s soccer up close, and a bunch of people in between.
Among the group of people who plans on making her presence felt at home matches is Kristina Anderson, the president of The Court, the official supporters group of the Royals. Although she didn’t grow up much of a soccer fan, Anderson was drawn to the atmosphere at Real Salt Lake games and has since been an ardent fan and key member of the supporters group for Real Monarchs, The Wasatch Legion.
When it was announced that the former FC Kansas City franchise would be coming to Utah, the leadership group of The Wasatch Legion realized they needed to put something together for the Royals.
“We knew that there is a huge women’s soccer fan group in Utah,” Anderson said. “There’s a huge support for them. Whenever the U.S. Women’s National Team comes out, there’s always a huge crowd, so we wanted to give them a place where they could sort of unite.”
Set to occupy Sections 28 and 29 of Rio Tinto Stadium on game days, the group has begun selling its own merchandise and held a watch party for URFC’s season debut against the Orlando Pride at Legends Sports Pub in downtown Salt Lake City. They originally reserved a room for 20 fans, but soon had to move when about 100 showed up.
The group plans on having occasional watch parties in the future when the team is on the road and will tailgate before every home game.
“The supporters culture is really cool,” Anderson said. “I’ve gone to Jazz games my whole life and I love basketball and other sports, but there’s just nothing like soccer supporters in my opinion...the more the merrier with us is what we’re thinking.”
Among parents who are excited to have their daughters see some of the world’s best players on a regular basis is Sandy’s Derek Scott. Having grown up on a farm in Idaho, Scott didn’t have much exposure to soccer as a kid but his daughter Olivia took to it when she began playing as a 6-year-old.
Now 13, Olivia is a goalkeeper on a competition team, so Derek Scott felt it just made sense to purchase season tickets for the two of them and his wife soon after the Royals came to town.
“The price is there and it’s women’s soccer,” Scott said. “Olivia’s excited to go see it, my wife’s excited to go see it, I’m excited to go see it.”
Scott’s co-worker, Jordan Ross, happens to have played soccer on the collegiate level, and the pair’s discussions about the Royals prompted Ross to get some tickets for the opener, in large part because his 3-year-old daughter Hazel has shown a rudimentary interest in the game.
“I want to continue to take her as often as I can to the women’s (games) because that’s obviously going to be inspiring to see women being amazing athletes,” Ross said. “I’m just excited to see it growing, and I wanted to have my daughter be a part of that as soccer is growing.”
Added Ogden’s Madie Jackson, who will be attending the home opener, “I just decided to go to the game because I think that having a women’s team in Utah is fantastic and it gives everybody a team to look up to. While there is the first team and the Monarchs, having a women’s team can show little girls that they can be just as good as the boys in all sporting aspects.”
That, combined with the fact that the URFC roster has players such as USWNT veterans Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara and an accomplished coach in Harvey, was a big reason 28-year-old Lauren Joyce of Midvale decided early on to purchase season tickets.
“I knew that this team was going to be kind of fun to watch and something special, and I wanted to be a part of the (first) season history,” she said. “Just as much as I love soccer and I love women’s soccer, I just kind of felt like it was my duty in a way — I really just wanted to get out and support not only the sport but support women’s sports in general, too.”
A few days before the season began in March, URFC owner Dell Loy Hansen told the Deseret News that the high level of passionate fans in the Beehive State has for The Beautiful Game is a primary reason he purchased the franchise.
“Utah has adopted soccer,” he said, “and the girls and women of this state clearly deserve to see the game played at the highest level here.”
URFC defender Becca Moros hopes her team’s play on the field can match the atmosphere that’s sure to be present during Saturday’s match, resulting in a positive outcome for the home side.
“I think it’s just a killer soccer environment, so hopefully we’ll be all there in it together celebrating the inaugural home game,” she said. “It’ll be a cool moment.”