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Defining moments: Utah Royals FC’s 2019 season, part I

We’ve selected the 10 moments that defined URFC’s season. This is part one, moments 1 through 5.

Cindy Lara | RSL Soapbox

What a year, huh? Looking back, especially at the 2019 season for Utah Royals FC, there were plenty of highlights, and we’ve selected the 10 moments that defined URFC’s season. You’ll know the voices here from our usual Royals coverage as we look back at 2019.

Because each moment deserves a good look, we’ve broken this down into two parts. So here we go with part one, moments #1 through #5.

#1. 1-0 win games: a tradition begins - Cindy Lara

Utah Royals FC began the season with a 1-0 win against the Washington Spirit. Then, they followed with two more 1-0 wins against the Orlando Pride and the Chicago Red Stars to start 3-0 for the season. After a loss and a draw, Utah found a way to win again. Yes, 1-0 again, setting a tradition of being able to win games by one goal to zero. They did so again in June against Sky Blue FC, and then later in the season against Portland Thorns FC with the magical 1-0 win.

#2 - The return of Mandy Laddish - RJ Allen

Sometimes it’s small moments that end up meaning the most throughout the season.

Mandy Laddish played just 11 minutes in her first match of 2019. She subbed in for the dying moments of a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit. But after two full seasons sidelined because of hip injuries, there was a feeling of accomplishment to see her just step on the pitch.

Players play hurt. More than they should. More than we know. But the type of hurt Laddish suffered for two seasons meant she couldn’t play at all. But in 2019, we were able to see her step up to the 4th official and step on a field and kick a ball. We were able to see flashes of the player that was so important for FC Kansas City, who had such promise once upon a time come back.

Laddish finished the 2019 season with 632 minutes over 11 games. She suffered another hip injury in the summer, and we don’t know if this is a minor set back or if she will once again be back. But I do know in 2019, we all got to see Maddy Laddish play professional soccer. We got to see someone play a game she loves in a way that mattered.

No one knows what the future holds for Mandy Laddish’s soccer career, but for a moment in 2019, we got to see her play soccer again, and it was pretty great.

#3. A-Rod’s goal from midfield - Cindy Lara

This is one best left for a video. Amy Rodriguez’s blast from 35 yards was a finalist for the 2019 FIFA Puskás Award, given annually for the goal of the year.

#4 - It’s a Christen Press World we live in - RJ Allen

There are two things most NWSL fans can agree on in this year of 2019.

One, the 2019 NWSL Best XI was not well put together. Two, Christen Press is a national team player who made the list and should have been just based on her NWSL play alone.

Eight goals and two assists in 14 games is noteworthy all by itself. But couple that with the way that the whole dynamic of Utah Royals FC changed when she was on the pitch, and suddenly, it becomes clear she was one of the most important players to her team in the league.

Press was given the freedom by Laura Harvey to move around as she needed. Often, she did need to move deeper than we’ve seen her normally to help relieve the pressure from the other team’s midfield to get a play rolling before getting the ball, performing magic in front of our eyes. She is willing and able to not only take shots with heavy coverage, but she can score goals through cracks even mice think are too small to pass through.

I don’t know if LA is going to have an NWSL team sometime before sea levels rise, and Arizona suddenly has beachfront property anymore than I know if Press would want to be traded away from Utah to an LA team if there was one. But right now, California has no NWSL team of any kind, and Christen Press is the beating heart of the Utah Royals.

5. It’s a year for the newcomers - Cindy Lara

2018 was not kind to rookies at all. With two teams folding in 2017 after the season ended, it left roster spots fairly small, & lesser-known newcomers were left on the outside, more as practice players. But in 2019, the NWSL expanded rosters for its 9 teams, giving younger players a chance. Expanded roster plus a World Cup gave newcomers a better chance to not only make the roster, but be called when needed. In Utah, we saw players like Gaby Vincent, Michelle Maemone, and Mallory Weber.

Vincent came to Utah as an undrafted rookie, and signed with the team during the World Cup to provide depth while Rachel Corsie and Becky Sauerbrunn were at the World Cup. Vincent played in nine games last season, starting in seven of them. She was eventually signed to a full team contract.

Maemone was a third-round pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft. In Utah Royals FC’s first game of the season, against the Washington Spirit at Rio Tinto Stadium, she earned her first start and appearance for the team. In total, she made seven appearances, six of which she started.

Weber joined Utah Royals FC via the NWSL Waiver Wire this summer after Portland released her. With URFC, She was converted to outside back position because Becca Moros and Kelley O’Hara were either absent or injured for much of the season. She made 18 appearances for URFC, greatly helping in her new outside back role.

That is it for today. We’ll have the next top five moments of 2019 tomorrow. Happy New Year!