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The Royal Watch: What we’re watching

The 2020 NWSL season is so close, but we expect changes - like a new head coach, roster news, etc. Here’s what we’re watching.

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Utah Royals v Seattle Reign Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

2020 kicked off with news that Laura Harvey and the club had parted ways so Harvey could pursue a head coaching position with U.S. Soccer as the U-20 U.S National Team head coach. The news surprised everyone, including players, and left us wondering much as the club steps into a new era under new leadership. Here’s what we’re watching as Utah Royals FC prepares for a new season.

Who will be the next head coach?

There’s no word on the leading candidate yet. About 15 candidates, both male and female from all levels of coaching experience, have been interviewed, though. The club does hope to have a new head coach by February 1st.

It could be interim head coach Scott Parkinson. It could not. He makes the most sense right now. He knows the team & knows what works and what doesn’t. As interim head coach, his work into drafting three solid draft picks at the 2020 NWSL College Draft already impressed some of us at RSL Soapbox.

Speaking of the draft, how will the draft picks adapt to URFC?

No doubt that the college game is very different from the NWSL, and these players will come into a very competitive environment when pre-season starts. Everyone wants a roster spot, after all.

Tziarra King, though, is the player to follow this pre-season. She has the potential to be a starter. King is a dynamic midfielder, and we all know what Utah’s midfield needs is creativity and speed, and King may just be that player.

Does Diana Matheson return?

Diana Matheson is currently listed on the Utah roster as an allocated player with Canada. That may well change for 2020. She is not a part of Canada’s Olympic qualifying roster this winter. I actually would be very surprised if Matheson is allocated again in 2020. And if she is not, her time with Utah may be done.

Matheson is a player Laura Harvey believed in and brought in through a trade (because Matheson was with Reign FC when Utah became a team; she was actually initially traded in from Washington to Seattle by Harvey). But with Harvey no longer with the team, and Matheson potentially no longer allocated (she also did not play in 2019 due to an injury), we may finally get an answer on her status.

The club will be faced with spending money on Matheson, or use the money to sign a player who can be with the team regularly and contribute significantly - like the young three draft picks. There’s the possibility that Matheson may also retire. We may see Matheson return for pre-season and work to earn a spot on the roster, or she may simply call it a career before the start. We wait and see on the future of the Canadian international.

Who will earn the starting goalkeeper spot?

Utah Royals FC may have a healthy goalkeeping competition going into 2020. Rightly so, Utah has two very good goalkeepers: a young solid goalkeeper, Abby Smith, and an NWSL veteran, Nicole Barnhart. Smith was the preferred keeper in 2018, but lost her starting role towards the end of that season. Going into 2020, Barnhart earned the nod and proved that age ain’t nothing but a number with 10 clean sheets and 61 saves, finishing as the 5th best goalkeeper in the league. Barnhart re-signed this off-season and will return for an eight season in the NWSL.

But Smith wants to earn her starting role back, which is why she went to Australia to play in the W-League this off-season. In seven games, Smith has an 83.7% saves success rate with three clean sheets for the Western Sydney Wanderers, who currently sit in second place.

Whoever the head coach may be, she/he will have to decide who is the best goalkeeper for 2020, which may be a difficult decision because both Smith and Barnhart are top keepers.

What are the NWSL upcoming key dates?

With the college draft well behind us, Utah now looks to the start of pre-season which is set for March 9. It also looks like the start of the regular season is scheduled for April 18, according to Meg Linehan from The Athletic.