Following up their second place finish in the inaugural United Women’s Soccer season, Real Salt Lake Women take to the field tonight to start the 2017 campaign with a home match against newcomers So Cal Crush FC. Let’s get everyone up to speed on where the team stands heading into the new slate of matches.
Head coach Mark Davis returns to lead the team for a second year in a row. The former BYU-Hawaii men’s coach came back to Utah last year to lead RSL in a highly successful season that just barely fell short of qualifying for, and hosting, the first ever UWS Championship match.
To improve on the previous season, RSL will need to get past returning champions Santa Clarita Blue Heat, who have only gotten stronger with the addition of Venezuelan international Deyna Castellanos. The 18-year-old Florida State star had 5 goals during the U-17 World Cup last year, and has also been called into the senior squad for her country. RSL will also face stiff competition from Houston Aces, who have a pair of Colombian national teamers in Tatiana Ariza and Isabella Echeverri. Houston was also a member of the same conference as RSL in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, and has always been a tough opponent for the ladies in Claret-and-Cobalt.
The West Conference sees two changes from last year, with Colorado Storm and Colorado Pride both departing the league after just one season. Replacing them will be the first Canadian side to join UWS, as Calgary Foothills WFC joins for 2017. The Foothills organization has an impressive developmental pyramid in place already, and have eyes on potentially joining the top-tier National Women’s Soccer League through future expansion. Also joining the league is the aforementioned So Cal Crush, who are a newly-formed club based in Montrose, CA. They are co-owned and coached by Reggie Rivas, who is also the director of the Crescenta Valley Soccer Club in the Los Angeles area.
As for RSL’s roster, a solid mix of veterans and newcomers take the pitch in 2017. Co-captains Annie Hawkins and Natalie Norris form part of the spine of the team at midfield and defense. Long-time goalkeeper Becca Ritchie returns as well to organize the backline with Katie Rogers and Maddy Grainger filling in on defense as well. RSL has Dayna Winter-Nolte in goal as well, who is extremely capable as an option to relieve Ritchie.
In the midfield third, Kira Sharp should have another outstanding season to go with a stellar 2016 where she compiled 4 assists running the attack after Hawkins missed a good portion of the season following a concussion. Alyssa Amano provides excellent passing and solid two-way play from the midfield, and gives Coach Davis another option to vary his lineup depending on the opponent.
The attacking group will be led by the pace and accuracy of Jessica Vanderveur, and also sees Colette Smith return after the birth of her first child kept her out most of 2016. The team also brings back 16-year-old Alta High and USWNT U-17 player Brecken Mozingo, who gave defenders fits last season with her speed and footwork.
The team fills out the roster with several current and former local college players, with 5 players from the Utah Valley University roster, and 5 from the University of Utah including USWNT U-23 player Hailey Skolmoski. It’s always interesting to watch the squad come together under the team motto of “Dedication to Each Other”, and incorporate the mix of players from different teams and backgrounds into a cohesive unit that continually finishes at or near the top of their league.
The season kicks off at 7 p.m. at Clyde Field on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, UT.