When Utah Royals FC inherited players’ rights from FC Kansas City, it was assumed that midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta would join the new NWSL team. LaBonta had started with FCKC as a practice player for the 2016 season, but soon earned a contract and signed with Kansas City in May. Due to the Rio Olympics that saw the absence of Canadian international Desiree Scott, LaBonta soon found herself in the starting lineup. Absences in the midfield along with head coach Vlatko Andonovski crediting her tenacity in the midfield, LaBonta became a key player for FC Kansas City, appearing in 33 games in two seasons.
LaBonta joined Utah Royals FC in February, officially signing with the club for the 2018 season as Utah continued to build the roster. In a deep pool of midfielders with international experience like Gunny Jónsdóttir, Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, and Katrina Gorry, head coach Laura Harvey opted to select these players for the midfield, and LaBonta began the season on the bench, subbing as needed.
By summertime, as Utah suffered setbacks with losses in Portland and Seattle, Harvey changed tactics, allowing Christen Press up top in the attack and focusing on players to better hold the midfield. Additionally, with Desiree Scott unavailable due to a right quad strain, LaBonta was Harvey’s next best choice and became a regular starter in August.
In total, in her 16 appearances for Utah Royals FC in 2018, LaBonta started in 8 games. Defensively, LaBonta had 5 clearances and 24 interceptions, with a 63.6% success rate in tackles. From a distribution perspective, LaBonta completed 77.8% of her passes.
On October 1, the club announced it had exercised the option to LaBonta’s contract, so we can expect the 25-year-old to return to Utah, continuing to impress with her tenacity and tackles in the midfield.
Sidenote: We often focus so much on players’ on-field performance, and it’s easy to look at stats and base their year off those statistics. For LaBonta, 2018 was more than on-field success. It was the year that her brother Kalaukoa passed away unexpectedly while attending Arizona State University. She dedicated this season to him, writing “Koa” across her fingers on her left hand for games and his name ingrained inside her jersey. We can talk about LaBonta’s season all we want, but in the end, it was a season where LaBonta was mourning the loss of her little brother.