On February 22, the world watched in stunned silence as a towel was thrown into the ring, ending the Fury vs. Wilder fight that was in the 7th round. Wilder was on the ropes and getting punished by Fury to the point where his team felt, for safety, that the towel needed to be thrown. Yes, this might trigger for you scenes of Apollo Creed and the if-only-the-towel-had-been-thrown, but in real life and the fictional world of Rocky, woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Many fans have been left feeling like the towel has been thrown in on the Utah Royals FC 2020 season. Laura Harvey left to coach the U.S. U-20 USWNT, fan favorites such as Katie Stengel, Becca Moros (you know you loved her when she ‘flopped’ the perfect imitation of Megan Rapinoe) and other players have been traded, waived and retired. And now the bombshell, captain and backline anchor Becky Sauerbrunn leaving. And not just leaving, but going to a Portland team. The news left fans reeling like a Fury right hook. It feels like the season is on the rope, and maybe even feels like the towel has been thrown and is falling.
So is there a cause to be optimistic? Should we not fear the terrible towel of unmet expectations in a city that is hungry for more trophies? Is the hiring of Craig Harrington the Mickey Goldmill who can get the team to turn around as Rocky did? So let’s cue the training montage music, get our eye of the tiger on, and examine what the Royals have going for them.
First, Craig Harrington has already surrounded himself with some great assistants and technical tacticians to help the team. Second, the Royals still have the Scottish Women’s National Team captain on the backline, Rachel Corsie, along with Kelley O’Hara. They still have Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez leading the attack. They drafted some much-needed young, talented players in the draft who might contribute sooner rather than later. They still have Vero Boquete and Desiree “The Destroyer” Scott in the midfield, along with the grit of Gunny. They still have a legend of a keeper in Nicole Barnhart, and Abby Smith is fit and ready to fight for minutes.
The club has the resources to bring in top international talent at some point. They have world-class facilities and an owner who wants to make Utah THE place for women’s soccer. URFC has a long-term vision to develop youth and create a pipeline to the first team, similar to the success that RSL has had in that regard. Nothing about what has happened in the offseason tells me that they have thrown in the towel this year.
So, what will we see this season? Utah’s season does not start until April 18th, so there is time for roster moves. Remember, we haven’t seen the preseason yet, and we don’t yet know the tactics and formations Harrington will use. The roster moves in the offseason (with the exception of Becky) were designed to fit a different style of play. We haven’t had a chance to see that yet. Do the Royals have the players to make the playoffs? Will fans still create the second-highest attendance numbers for an NWSL team? These are all unknowns at this point. If you listen to interviews with General Manager Stephanie Lee and Harrington, it is clear they have not thrown in the towel. There is hope.
So, when the team is reeling and on the ropes, and the punches keep coming, will they dig down, find their eye of the tiger and push forward? Will some Mickey-motivation take them from a forgotten underdog to shocking the soccer world? We shall see.
Remember that when Fury seemed down and washed up, he fought back to his first match with Wilder. Remember him getting knocked down and then pushing through to a controversial tie. Then he came back to punish Wilder in the rematch.
Remember when Rocky got ‘clobbered’ and fought back to be on top? Fans of the Royals have felt that over the last couple of seasons. The team was better than the results. A team that has the right pieces but didn’t seem to get the most out of everyone. Well, the bell has rung on a new round and season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals come out swinging.