HERRIMAN — If the first day of training in 2019 for Utah Royals FC was any indication, the upcoming season will be an interesting combination of familiarity and adjusting to unique circumstances.
On one hand, as the team met Monday at Zions Bank Training Center to begin its second season in the Beehive State, there was a certain level of it being business as usual. Gone was the hoopla that came with being a brand new club, and the majority of those present were familiar with one another.
On the other hand, it was hard to ignore the fact that a bunch of players weren’t there, and likely won’t be for much of the season. Eight regular contributors from 2018 will miss at least the first week of training camp because of international duty, and seven of those will likely be competing in the World Cup this summer, and thus their availability for at least the first half of the season will be in flux (midfielder Gunny Jonsdottir is gone now, but is expected to be available throughout the season).
Heck, even head coach Laura Harvey will be absent from the first few days of training to work on obtaining her coaching A license, leaving assistant Scott Parkinson to run things.
Nevertheless, expectations remain high after the club missed the postseason by just two points last season.
“We have a good group of girls here,” said goalkeeper Abby Smith. “We’ve been together and working hard, and I think everyone wants to win, and for the people that we do have here and the new faces, we’re having a high standard and we’re not going to let off from that.”
While the lineups Harvey will send onto the field will look very different from 2018 for a large part of the season because of the World Cup, there’s really only one new major addition to the roster in legendary Spanish midfielder Vero Boquete, who will replace the departed Katrina Gorry.
Boquete is no longer part of Spain’s national team, but captained her country’s side as it made its first-ever appearance in the World Cup in 2015.
“I think it’s really important to be a team,” she said of how to navigate times when so many players are absent. “Everyone has to feel that it’s important. Everyone has their own role. When we’re missing the international players, everyone has to take the challenge.”
Boquete, at least at the outset, believes her team can still accomplish big things, even if the season will likely be odd at times.
“If we are not thinking on Day One about winning, it would not be worth it to be here,” she said. “We are thinking about that, and of course the season is so long. There are so many games. We have to grow like a team, but our goal is to be in the playoffs and then fight for the title.”
Although the external magic of the inaugural season is gone, Smith said the team will be using the on-field results as motivation for 2019. In finishing 2018 with a record of 9-7-8, URFC was third among nine teams in the National Women’s Soccer League in goals allowed but just seventh in goals scored.Comment on this story
“Last year we came up a little short, and I think that’s something that we’re going to have in the back of our mind,” she said, “so we’re trying to push the limit and really go from there.”
URFC is slated to train for the next two weeks in Herriman. The team will then spend a week in Los Angeles before returning to Utah, and will then train at America First Field in Sandy.
The NWSL season is set to begin on April 13, although URFC will not play that first weekend and will open April 20 at Rio Tinto Stadium against former BYU star Ashley Hatch and the Washington Spirit.