There are a few players on Utah Royals FC who had tough years, but Abby Smith might hold claim to the most disappointing 2019. Smith, who played the majority of games for the Royals in 2018, did not see a single minute this season. And that’s a bad thing, not only for Smith, but also for the future of goalkeeping at the Royals.
To understand what happened to Smith’s playing time in 2019, we have to look at 2018. Abby had started 16 games in a row until she was subbed out for an injury in the 73rd minute of a game against Orlando in July of last year. Prior to the injury, Smith had been relatively successful. She was 25 years old for the 2018 season, which is fairly young for a keeper. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2015 and spent two seasons with the Boston Breakers before the team folded. She had only played 21 professional games before joining URFC. Smith made a handful of poor mistakes that led to goals in 2018, but that will always happen to a young keeper and those mistakes feel pretty forgivable.
Smith received call ups to the USWNT under Ellis, though she did not see any playing team, including in a friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium against China in the summer of 2018. After returning from injury, she only played once more for Utah in the remaining six games of the ’18 season, and USWNT and NWSL veteran Nicole Barnhart took up the starting keeper job.
Nicole Barnhart is an incredible keeper and an absolute legend. If it weren’t for Hope Solo, she would’ve been the number one starter for the US for a solid decade. Barnie is still a very good keeper and having her in Utah an incredible asset. However, Abby Smith playing no games in 2019 is a huge miss. Smith is the future of goalkeeping for Utah Royals and the fact that she got no minutes this season hurts her game, and ultimately the team.
A silver lining here is that Smith is currently playing with Western Sydney Wanderers in the W-League (Australia). She’s looked good through the first four games of their season, having started every game and allowing less than one goal per game on average. There’s no player on the Royals that needed playing more than Smith and going to Australia for their season is a great move for her, and hopefully sets her up to contend for the starting keeper spot in 2020. Smith is expected to return to the Royals next.