When the 2020 NWSL College Draft was announced for January 16th, the Utah Royals had only three selections, the 12th selection in Round 2, the 22nd in Round 3 and the 31 in Round 4. During their first two years of operation under head coach Laura Harvey, accumulation and retention of college draft picks had not been a focus of the staff.
In the 2018 draft, the Royals used their two selections on Taylor Isom (14th pick) and Emma Jane Proctor (34th pick). Neither saw any time on the field for the veteran heavy parent club. In the 2019 draft, Utah had three picks; Michelle Maemone (23rd), Madeline Nolf (27th) and Alexandra Kimball (32nd). Due to World Cup absences and injuries, Maemone made 8 appearances with 7 starts and Nolf also managed a late substitution for one minute.
With their earliest pick ever and a new head coach, it was hoped that 2020 would be the season that young players, including those from the draft, would finally make their mark on the field for the Utah Royals. The Royals even traded allocation money to the Chicago Red Stars in the draft to move up and obtain their 8th pick as well as their original 12th pick.
On draft day, Tziarra King (8th pick) and Kate Del Fava (12 pick) were added to the Royals and then ... the sporting world shut down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
When the stars finally aligned, a collective effort between NWSL management and team owners led to the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup here in Utah where the stage for King and Del Favs was finally set. With a number of veterans electing to sit the tournament out, once again space for rookies opened up. Both Del Fava and King came on as second half substitutes in the Royals initial cup game, and King scored a late goal for a dramatic 3-3 tie with eventual champions Houston Dash. Beyond that, the confident Tziarra King immediately became a team leader in the actions off the field amidst the emerging BLM and social justice movements.
In the second match against Sky Blue FC, Kate Del Fava, a midfielder during much of her time in college at Illinois State University, got her first start as a Royal in the experimental three-person back line and played a full 90 minutes. King also came on a second half substitute.
By the end of the five matches played in the Challenge Cup , both King and Del Fava were firmly established as not just favorites among the fans, but as genuine contributors on a team that had previously relied almost entirely on experienced veterans.
During the fall season, King added a second goal and was fifth in appearance time for the Royals with starts in all four matches. Del Fava had two starts with a full 90 minutes in each.
We wish both Tizarra King and Kate Del Fava our best in their sophomore seasons far from Utah but still firmly in our hearts.