With the most challenging, oft-embarrassing, How_is_This_Even_Real season in the books for the young franchise, it’s time for the Utah Royals to start a new chapter. With at least several months of hiatus of NWSL games staring at fans following the Fall Series, I’d thought it’d be valuable to consider Utah Royals FC’s past and take inventory of how it ought to look going forward.
Starting from the foundation of the transferring FC Kansas City team, the Royals had a promising theoretical open: an experienced, respected coach in Laura Harvey, key veterans with both USWNT and NWSL championship pedigrees (Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn, Nicole Barnhart). It was then certainly defensible that URFC General Manager Stephanie Lee immediately sought “win-now” moves, acquiring Kelley O’Hara in exchange for younger talent (Shea Groom, alas), and later Christen Press for five draft picks and a player.
Adding some of the best talent in the world added firepower to the team, prestige to the franchise, respectable attendance from the fanbase, but ultimately, no playoffs, no shield, and some discouragement. I’m calling this phase Royals 1.0. They went all-in on immediate winning, were at times highly entertaining to watch, sustained a strong fanbase, but didn’t fulfill their full winning potential.
The 2020 season had the most potential of all, with arguably the biggest double European signing in NWSL history (Marozsan & Bouhaddi), but then it all went downhill.
- Becky Sauerbrunn traded to Portland
- Covid-19 delayed the season until the summer
- The Europeans extended their contracts in Europe
- The team eventually had a disappointing showing in the Challenge Cup.
- Press leaves for Manchester United
- Rumors that O’Hara has a foot and a half out the door, wanting to play in Washington
- The revelations regarding Deloy Hansen’s bigotry and Andy Carroll’s monstrous sexism
- Head coach Craig Harrington put on administrative leave.
Just about everything in above makes me want to cry into a pillow or plunger my face off. I don’t want to linger on it or even give it an official name as a period of the Royals’ history.
The few positives to come from this year are worth noting and building upon with two stand-out rookies in Kate Del Fava and Tziarra King, the NWSL and Royals players becoming larger activists for racial justice, and now the opportunity to form Royals 2.0.
Royals 2.0 can and should cut ties with the past: owner, executive officer, coach, and/or any that failed to condemn their behavior. Royals 2.0 also has the opportunity to transition to a team built around developed and drafted talent, emphasizing youth, and potential over veteran experience. The impending expansion draft begins to force the general manager’s hand towards this transition, and I hope all the necessary lessons have been taken to heart.
A new owner, a new coach, a revamped and youthful roster, games back in stadiums (combined with an effective, widely-distributed Covid vaccine!), Royals 2.0 is what I’ll look forward to in 2021 and beyond.