In the midst of a good snow storm that finally made it feel like winter, Utah Royals FC players and coaches gathered inside the warm Zions Bank Real Academy to hold their first training session in club history.
24 rostered players, and 12 non-roster invitees, kicked off this historic day that began with one of the most interesting and memorable warm up drills. Players formed a large circle with two players in the middle, who had to jump up and down several times before head coach Laura Harvey kicked a ball into the circle. It then became a pretty standard game of keepaway until the two in the middle picked out the ball. Then the players scrambled to find a partner and hop on each other’s backs, holding until Harvey told them to get down and reset the drill. In an interview after the session, Harvey explained she does it with all her teams as a way to relax and have a little fun before the harder work begins.
Assistant coach Scott Parkinson took over the next drills, first with small group keepaway, and then a passing routine with multiple stations that required players to pass and then move to the next spot around the field. Parkinson upped the intensity every few minutes, adding in more complex player movements and switching the direction around the stations to challenge the players. He then moved them to a game of three-team keepaway that had a group in the middle chasing the ball, while the two on the outside of the circle were looking to pass the ball out to a lone forward on the outside of the circle.
The last part of the session was a short field set of modified game scenarios that challenged the players to use quick passing in small spaces to find chances to shoot on goal. The goalkeepers joined in on these games after spending the first part of the training on their own working with their coach. The team finished with a drill between two goals at an angle to each other where attackers and defenders battled 1v1 to have a chance to shoot.
Following the training the media session was held with coach Harvey, and players Gunny Jónsdóttir and Becky Sauerbrunn, who answered a series of questions from the small pool of reporters. All three of them spoke about the quality of the facilities and the care that is being shown to the players, with Gunny and Sauerbrunn both mentioning that having breakfast ready for the team when they arrived was something they’d never experienced before. They also spoke about how the professionalism of the club is going to equate to the level of play on the field, as they recognize the importance of giving the same effort on the field that the team is giving them off of it.
A few players worked on the side or had limited roles in training as they recover from injury. Sauerbrunn did not take part in the drills but did work with trainers on the side, and Nicole Barnhart did some of the warmups rather than join in with the keepers in the early half of the session. Amy Rodriguez and Mandy Laddish participated in most of the drills but wore shirts indicating they were non-contact players. When asked about a timeline on their respective recoveries, Harvey indicated it’s day-to-day with all of them, but with just over a month before matches begin there isn’t a rush to push them too hard just yet.
Training continues once a day this week with the exception days off on Wednesday and Sunday, and a recovery session on Saturday.