I have spent the last week and a half in a hospital room with a family member who is going through some medical problems. Most of the time, I’m sitting with her during the 8 pm until 8 am shift to make sure she makes it through the night. It’s not the best situation to be in, but it has allowed me time to reflect on a lot of the soccer I’ve seen this year.
This piece has been written and rewritten about a dozen times. Somewhere along the way, it moved from a typically structured piece to something more personal and more amorphous. But stick with it, I think, you dear reader will enjoy it in any case.
While Utah Royals FC will not be going to the playoffs in their second year in the league, they have shown some growth over their first year. They are a better team as they head into their last game of 2019 than they were going into their first game of 2018.
I’ve often joked that the Royals were custom build to make me like them. A team coached by Laura Harvey, a team that features Christen Press, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Corsie, and Desiree Scott, a team that plays tough and - mostly - has a solid defense. They can play some of the most beautiful soccer I’ve ever seen one moment and lead to mind-numbing frustration the next. They are a challenging team full of contradictions that seems to figure things out sometimes a step too late. But they do figure it out.
Watching Utah Royals this year, focusing on the ups and downs that this team had, gave me a grounding I didn’t have in 2015. It allowed something solid to hold on when the World Cup seemed to swirl around, too big and too fast to grip on to from an ocean away, even if I did try in a podcast and written form over at Backline Soccer.
The NWSL, on its best days, can be a bit of a rollercoaster. The ups and downs are something you learn to navigate with a bit of go humor and a few late nights when you spend any time covering it. But in a World Cup year, they are heightened. Players miss time for the World Cup, and then missed time for injuries during the World Cup. Some media appearances bring out big named reporters who don’t know if Christen Press is a center forward or a center back. And reading rosters on game days lead to more than one Google search to try to figure out who everyone is.
Tonight, the Royals will take on the Houston Dash in the last game of their 2019 campaign. No Kelley O’Hara, no Becca Moros, no Mandy Laddish. Christen Press may or may not have fully recovered from a slight knock to her left leg. It will likely not be a game of inspiring soccer, but it will be a game that I’ll watch regardless of if I have to or not. With the Royals, I can never quite look away after all.
At the end of the day it is a thank you to the team for being them. A thank you to Mandy Laddish for making me cry in a pizza place parking lot, to Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn for adding another star to the USWNT crest, a thank you to the editors for letting me write a preview of the team as if they were a Quidditch team, a thank you to Rachel Corsie for captaining the first Scottish WNT at the World Cup.
In the coming weeks and months, I will break down who the team may or may not want to protect if there is an expansion, or what they should do if Harvey goes to coach the USWNT, or she stays in Utah. There will be think pieces, serious contemplations, and funny lines.
But for now, I’ll leave it at thank you to the Royals, to the RSL Soapbox family, and the readers. It’s been a heck of a year, hasn’t it?