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Utah Royals FC 2019 NWSL preview

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It’s year two for Laura Harvey and the team in Utah.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Utah Royals FC are set to begin their second NWSL season on April 20th with a home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Washington Spirit. It’s the second season in Utah under Laura Harvey, and we can expect (hope!) that Harvey has figured out some of the offensive struggles from 2018. The 2019 season will be a defining season, for sure, for Harvey and for the club.

How did they finish in 2018?

For being a new club in the league, Utah almost finished in the top four for the NWSL playoffs, but they missed them by two points behind the Chicago Red Stars. Overall, not the preferred ending to the inaugural season, but a respectable and worthwhile effort.

What’s new in 2019?/Biggest change from last year?

In January, Utah announced the signing of former Spanish national team midfielder Verónica Boquete. The attacking midfielder is a major signing for a team who struggled to create opportunities in the midfield.

Who’s out?

Defender Alex Arlitt, midfielder Katrina Gorry, and forward Elise Thorsnes. The club declined the options for all three players at the end of last season. Also, out are all of the practice players from last year, not limited to but including goalkeeper E.J Proctor, defender Taylor Isom, and defender Kendall Johnson.

Who’s in?

Vero Boquete is the only official off-season signing. Utah Royals FC selected three players in the 2019 NWSL College Draft in January, selecting (D) Michelle Maemone, (D) Madeline Nolf, and (F/D) Alexandra Kimball. All three draftees have yet to sign and are with the club as National Team Replacements. Currently, there are three additional non-roster invitees who remain with the club ahead of the final cut. They are (FW) Raisa Strom Okimito, (D) Gaby Vincent, and (GK) Melissa Lowder. However, their level of involvement with the first team or the Utah Royals Reserves remains to be seen.

Additionally, while not new players, the return of midfielders Makenzy Doniak and Mandy Laddish, who both missed the entirety of the inaugural season due to injury will give Laura Harvey two additional options.

What’s the new jersey?

Utah released a new away jersey for the 2019 season. They will keep their Royal gold home jerseys.

How will the World Cup impact the squad?

Utah will lose seven of its core players: Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Rachel Corsie, Katie Bowen, Desiree Scott, and Diana Matheson. Even with those players at the World Cup, Utah will still have Vero Boquete, Amy Rodriguez, Abby Smith, Gunny Jonsdottir, Sam Johnson, and Lo LaBonta, to name a few. Utah should be okay with those seven players with their national teams and will likely remain in the top four of the standings. Laura Harvey is a smart coach, and we can be sure that she has prepped for year two.

Projected starting XI (assuming everyone is available)

GK - Smith; Defenders - Moros, Sauerbrunn, Corsie, Bowen; Midfielders - Jonsdottir, Boquete, Scott; Forwards - Press, Rodriguez, O’Hara

Expectations for 2019?

The big issue for Utah Royals FC in 2018 was consistency in the final third. Simply, Utah could not score goals. They finished 7th in both shot conversion (9.9%) and shooting accuracy (43.8%). Even after adding Press in June, Utah’s scoring struggles continued. The expectation is for Utah to have that issue solved and stay in contention for the playoffs. The addition of Verónica Boquete will hopefully clean up a lot of the connecting issues between the midfield and the front attack, creating cleaner and more consistent goal-scoring opportunities.

What did we learn last season about this team?

We learned that, overall, Utah had a pretty darn good team, and the defense, anchored by Sauerbrunn and Corsie, was one of the best in the league, the number two defense in the NWSL, with 227 shots allowed, 69 on target.

But Utah did face the issues of a new team, trying to figure out its identity on the field, learning to work together under a new system with a new head coach.

Who is THE player to watch on your team, and why?

There are a number of good options. Press as one of the most talented players on the team but didn’t quite integrate after joining the squad in the summer. Rodriguez, another huge talent, who has now moved on from USWNT duties and therefore will be with the team all summer. Or Sauerbrunn, who is the most important player. But Verónica Boquete is the player to watch in 2019 for Utah Royals. Vero is quite a journey woman, having played in Europe, North America, and China. She’s played in the league previously with Portland Thorns FC. Vero could be the exact piece Utah needs to unlock their attack. One of the main issues in 2018 was goal-scoring since much of the team’s success came from a strong back line. If Boquete can connect well with the forwards (it’s assumed she’ll play in a creative midfield role), then that could be a game changer for the Royals.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

As mentioned above, the biggest concern is that World Cup stretch. It will impact Utah’s defense the most. With players like Sauerbrunn, O’Hara, Corsie, and Bowen out for a major stretch in the summer, there will be a major loss in talent. It’s also a good opportunity for other players to step up but, but asking someone to do what Becky or Kelley does is asking an awful lot.