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URFC Roundtable: Which players stay and go?

In this URFC Roundtable, with a potential expansion in 2020, waivers, and possible trades (Oh my!), we’ve been wondering this week: Which players return? Which do not return next season?

Nikita Taparia

Utah Royals FC is in off-season mode, which will mean roster moves by releasing players, offering new contracts, etc. The roster of 2019 will indeed look different in 2020. That’s just the business of sports as teams look to remain competitive, and Utah must make roster moves to be in contention in 2020. Here at RSL Soapbox, with expansion looming and waivers and possible trades, we’ve been wondering lately: Which players return? Which do not return next season?

You’ll know the voices here from our usual Royals coverage as we answer this very important question.

Cindy Lara

If the expansion reports of Sacramento getting a team for 2020 are true, Utah can only protect 10 players, including two U.S. National Team members. Should there be an Expansion Draft, and the league holds the same rules as 2015, Sacramento can start to build their team with 10 players, choosing them from the current NWSL teams. The good news is that each team can only lose two players. The bad news is that Utah may lose two players, and one of them could be a USWNT player. And if that’s the case, it may be Kelley O’Hara because I think Utah will choose to protect Christen Press and Becky Sauerbrunn. O’Hara, due to injuries, has just not been a player who has contributed much to Utah in her two years with the club.

Expansion aside, I don’t think Gunny Jónsdóttir has been the impact player Laura Harvey wants her to be. She is not a Jess Fishlock-type of player. Gunny’s role is better at coming off the bench, but at this point, Utah needs a starter that can impact the game more. Perhaps Utah can use Gunny as a trade piece.

Players who could be placed on the Re-entry Wire, whose option will not be exercised, no new contract offered or contract expired: Erika Tymrak, Sydney Miramontez, and Katie Stengel. Tymrak played 531 minutes, seeing decreased time on the field as the season progressed; Miramontez had 210 minutes and was injured all season; Stengel, as much as she started, I don’t think is the player to be in the attack anymore. Utah needs speed up front, and Stengel is not a speedy player.

Then there are the possible retirements of Nicole Barnhart, Diana Matheson, and Mandy Laddish. Both Barnhart and Matheson have had great careers, but Matheson was injured all season and was left off the injury report, which is a curious case that we can take up with the Canadian Federation. Barnhart could go another year, but we began to see the weariness of a full season as the season neared the end. Laddish suffered another setback with her hip this summer and could call it a career due to that injury.

Dave Cheever

You may recognize me as the author of many articles on the Real Monarchs and not nearly as much about the Utah Royals, but I wanted to offer my take. A substantial number of the established stars on the World Cup-winning USWNT are in the mid (and perhaps even late) 30s. They have been playing together for a very long time, and even with the reported injuries they were carrying, they had enough to master the younger and less experienced players on many of the other teams in the competition.

Utah Royals FC has had two seasons to make it to the NWSL playoffs with teams led by a rather large collection of talented players, if not superstars, and failed both times. Christen Press (nearly 31), Becky Sauerbrunn (34), Kelly O’Hara (31), Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir (31), Amy Rodriguez (31), Desiree Scott (31), Rachel Corsie (30), and this season’s big signing, Verónica “Vero” Boquete (31), are all world class players who bring solid credentials to the team. Do they, however, have the interest and time to dedicate toward building a lasting team culture here in Utah over the next 3-5 years at the cost of personal fame and success? For the Royals to succeed as a club team that will continue to compete in an expanding NWSL that is exactly what will be required.

Experience has shown that, despite its features, Utah is not a primary destination for a majority of talented sports figures. In an expanding NWSL, with many more desirable locations, there will be continuing pressure to attract and retain top figures in women’s soccer. Additionally, scheduling needs will always cause issues with breaks and call ups for national team players.

For these reasons, I think it’s time to develop a team for the long term and not just market a few world-class stars designed to pull the casual fan into Rio Tinto. The Royals currently pull slightly more than 10,000 fans to their matches, which is enough for second place in the NWSL. While moving away from WNT-level players may lower these figures in the short term, it is a change the Royals will need to face at some point, and it’s better to take the hit now in a smaller league with fewer high media markets than wait for the inevitable.

I would elect to retain Amy Rodriguez (31), Desiree Scott (31), Rachel Corsie (30), and Verónica “Vero” Boquete (31) as the core of the future Royals team and use the remaining players mentioned above as trade bait for younger talented players on the fringes of the USWNT and in similar situations. I would also strongly strive to sign Lo’eau LaBonta (26), Brittany Ratcliffe (25), Makenzy Doniak (25), Gabby Vincent (21), Mallory Weber (25), Michelle Maemone (22), and Abby Smith (26) to at least three-year contracts with the understanding that they would be committing to Utah for more than just the duration of the NWSL season, but as the future faces of Utah Royals FC and primary team ambassadors year-round. Utah fans deserve a club that plays as, and for, a team and not a collection of all-stars like the LA Galaxy that never quite mesh together.

Stockton Mair

First off, I want to say that I know that some of my takes will be controversial, and I am overwhelmed thinking about having certain players leave. I love every player who is on the roster, but it’s a fact that the roster will likely be very different next year.

During the last couple of weeks of the season, when we knew Utah wasn’t making the playoffs, I started preparing a list of players I would want to keep, players who may be picked in the expansion or may be bubble players, and players who I think should retire or leave the club. I’m going to put them into “keep” and “let go” here.

I think Utah needs to keep Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn, Brittany Ratcliffe, Rachel Corsie, Gaby Vincent, Michelle Maemone, Katie Bowen, Abby Smith, Desiree Scott, Lo’eau LaBonta, Vero Boquete, Makenzy Doniak, and Mallory Weber. Royals FC should also keep Erika Tymrak, Taylor Lytle, Raisa Strom-Okimoto, Madeline Nolf, Melissa Lowder, and Sydney Miramontez. Ideally, keeping Kelley O’Hara is important, but with expansion likely happening, and only being able to protect two allocated players, I think O’Hara is the most expendable.

I do want to state again that I appreciate every player on the team, but there need to be a few changes for Utah to reach the playoffs next year. Unfortunately, I think Becca Moros, Nicole Barnhart, Mandy Laddish, and Diana Matheson all may retire, while Gunny Jonsdottir and Katie Stengel will move on to different clubs. Some of these players under-performed this year, and Utah will be looking for consistent great performances.

Megan Webb

First, I want to address the idea of the expansion draft. As Cindy mentioned earlier, this is barring that the league uses the same rules in years past. I have to assume that your 2 USWNT players saved are Becky Sauerbrunn and Christen Press. With Kelley O’Hara’s inability to remain healthy and contribute to her club team, it’s unlikely she is protected. I would be shocked to see Utah let either Sauerbrunn or Press get away, barring any personal wishes of the players that may come up.

This next part is where it gets hard. I don’t ever like openly saying who I think needs to go, but there are some players that it may be time. One of those people for me is Diana Matheson, especially if Vero Boquete stays, and it sounds like she will be. There’s no place for Matheson anymore. She’s been battling an injury and seems like she may just be headed to retirement, but at the very least, it may be time for her days in Utah to be over.

The other person I think its time to say goodbye to is Gunny Jonsdottir. Gunny just isn’t the piece in this roster that we need. Playing her as a defender in place of Katie Bowen didn’t work out well, and there’s no place for her in the midfield either. No disrespect to Gunny because she’s an incredible athlete, but her defensive nature is not needed in this team anymore.

Those are my two big names on who leaves. There are some others that I wouldn’t be too worried if they leave, but there are some names that would have me very worried, like Lo’eau LaBonta, Gabby Vincent, Makenzy Doniak, Mallory Weber, or Abby Smith. These five are some of the youngest players on the roster, and I think that’s the trend Utah needs to set. The core group of players we rely on are not going to play forever, and if someone like LaBonta or Weber were to lead this team, potentially even as a captain one day, I wouldn’t be upset.

URFC has a lot of talent, but my biggest thing in this offseason is going to be if we can get a younger team more minutes. I’m thinking players like Michelle Maemone, Madeline Nolf, Vincent, Doniak, and Katie Bowen are the players with a future in Utah.

There you have it. Expect news of roster changes this week. Today, the off-season discovery opens. Friday is the deadline for teams to exercise options and list waived players.