The Utah Royals season is over.
There will be no more matches played for the team in 2020 unless the NWSL decides to play another set of games later in the year. Though with how the pandemic is being handled, the chances of that are 30/70 at best.
And before we get in our weekly points, let me say this.
Seeing Kelley O’Hara, Nicole Barnhart, and Rachel Corsie, three players I am both a fan of, and whom I have covered for a long time, standing during the national anthem was a bit of a gut punch. While I am not in favor of mandatory kneeling being set by a club, players association, or league, I do believe all players should kneel in support of their Black teammates. Seeing players who hold power both from being on national teams and for being player representatives standing, while the vast majority knelt was disheartening. Kelley O’Hara, choosing to decline to speak to the media, was a blow to the image of a player that has been around long enough to know better.
I hope in the coming months that O’Hara, Barnhart, and Corsie speak to other white players on the team and others about why kneeling matters, what they can do to help to put real change into action, and figure out ways to move forward from a stunning showing of lack of judgment players who are in positions of power in their respective player associations.
So with the Royals on ice for the next 9 months or so, let’s take a moment to talk about some important things.
The Royals should trade O’Hara and Press, then clean house
Christen Press is one of the finest forwards in the world. Kelley O’Hara can play everywhere from outside back to the forward line.
But this team isn’t a perfect Press season or a healthy Kelley O’Hara from being the North Carolina Courage or the Portland Thorns. They aren’t three seasons of both of those things happening away. They need three or four upgraded starters and another four to seven bench players that are upgraded over what their best back offer now.
Trading both gives Utah the chance to use the draft, the international market, or players already in the league to grow themselves to be a team that doesn’t just have one successful season ala the Orlando Pride but to be the next Chicago Red Stars or Washington Spirit.
Taking your world-class striker and your do-everything-when-not-broken-field player, and trimming the roster waving or trading players who just aren’t good enough or don’t fit, and turning younger players into 5 solid B level talents would do wonders for the Royals as they head into a hopefully more normal 2021.
The Team has to get younger
By trade, by cuts, by the fountain of youth that Brazilian star Formiga has in her backyard, I don’t care how they do it, but it needs to be done.
It doesn’t matter to be how many players Utah has born in the ’80s vs. the ’90s. It’s not about overall players but about key players. Barnhart, Matheson, Rodriguez, Vero, Scott, O’Hara, Jonsdottir, Press Lytle, and Corsie are all over 30. That is very nearly their choice for a starting XI right there.
The team should focus on growing King, Ratcliffe, and bringing in players who weren’t born during the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Having younger players not only gives them a chance to turn them into superstars, the way Chicago, North Carolina, Portland, and others have done, but it allows them to turn them into the kind of players the team needs. It is harder to change the style of older players after all.
Utah has been old since it took on FCKC’s roster and has only watched the starting XI get older with each passing year. Players like King and Del Fava help, but they can’t be the only solution.
To stan or not
One of the great things about women’s soccer is the passion that the fans have. One of the worst things about women’s soccer is fans - stans - using that passion to make the lives of those of us who cover the thing we’re all passionate about more difficult.
If you see a tweet you don’t agree with, by all means, you should tell someone you don’t agree with them. Or you could also mute them. Block them. You don’t have to engage with people you disagree with on social media. You aren’t scoring points in some sort of real-life video game.
Sure, if you see truly vile content, call people out for it. But policing joy and enjoyment from others because they poke fun at your favorite player, or they enjoy something different than you enjoy leads to people deciding the NWSL isn’t something they want to engage with.
Loving something is one of the rare pleasures of the earth, but loving something so much that you ruin the enjoyment for other people because you are telling them they must enjoy the thing on your terms is an evil that should be stamped out. You aren’t defending the honor of your favorite player; you are just being a jerk.
At the end of the day, Christen Press doesn’t know who you are, and she doesn’t care. Save that desire to defend, the anger, the righteous indignation for systemic racism, for true sexism, for women’s sports getting 4% of the coverage. Save it for that. Save it for the people who belittle women’s soccer and women’s sports. Not for the people who give their own time and money to help cover the sport and who are fans of it.
The Most Noble Order of the Lioness
And now for that most special time where we must speak of the nominations for The Most Noble Order of the Lioness.
This week the honor of nomination goes to Lo’eau LaBonta. Because she is the reason that Utah was able to put themselves in as solid of a position was they did. She is smart on and off the ball, strong enough to land timely tackles, and able to be flexible in her mindset. She really is the MVP for the Royals this year.
And with that nomination, LaBonta is our first and the only recipient of The Most Noble Order of the Lioness for 2020. All hail LaBonta.