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Lo LaBonta opens up about Utah Royals FC culture

The former URFC midfielder shares her perspective on the final year of the Utah Royals

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Lo LaBonta spent three seasons playing for the Utah Royals FC, and in a recent interview with Sam’s Army podcast, she spoke openly about some of the frustrations she and other players endured as members of Utah’s professional women’s soccer club. LaBonta describes the toxic culture that existed within the organization at the time, while highlighting the respect and closeness the Royals players had for one another.

We have transcribed some key quotes from the podcast about LaBonta’s experience with Utah Royals FC. LaBonta also speaks about her time playing in Australia’s W-League, returning to Kansas City and their upcoming season, and her relationship RSL fan favorite Roger Espinoza, to whom she is now engaged. It’s a good listen, but for the purposes of this article we have not included that portion of the interview.

Sam’s Army: What was the vibe like (at Utah)?

LaBonta: That last year I was there, because we were there for three seasons, was for sure the most absurd thing I’ve ever been through. It wasn’t just the sports side, like it was stuff off the field as well and a lot of stuff behind the scenes. I remember doing a written interview and I was like, “I can’t even type this out.” This is so much. You had to be there to truly understand but to put it into words it was the most unprofessional, hostile, inhumane settings. People were treated very poorly. It was so disrespectful. I think that what helped our team was become so close is because we called it out as players and we knew we all had each other’s backs and we ended up not really representing the Utah Royals logo but we would go and do things in the community… We needed to do more in the community because this organization (RSL Org) is so focused on being a part of white privilege. And we need to change that and change the narrative. We did it the best we could and we probably did it too well because they kicked us out and back to Kansas City.

Sam’s Army: All the stories about people sexing up pictures and stuff, that’s all true, right?

LaBonta: Yeah. The biggest one I saw of this was our COO (Chief Operating Officer) he treated his female workers very poorly and sexualized them a lot in meetings and when it came to marketing he was like, “No, only the pretty people can go up there”… For us, this female has gone over so many obstacles and broken so many boundaries, because you personally don’t think she’s pretty and you won’t market her, that was one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. Because at the end of the day, we’re Utah Royals, a professional women’s soccer team… and we’re not anything else that sexualizes women. It was so absurd and it was just the tip of the iceberg of all the problems the club was dealing with.

Author’s note: It seems that LaBonta is referring to former Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll, as the club does not have a Chief Operating Officer nor did they in 2020.

Sam’s Army: Was he like an equal opportunity s***head where the men would get treated sort of the same way in that poor sense?

LaBonta: There was one comparison, in terms of all the other stuff he was like we’re not going to give women time of day we’re going to focus on the men, but there was one instance where he was like, I’m not going to say the name of the player, but this player had came into the league, was balling out and called into the men’s national team, and he refused to put him on the billboard as well because he didn’t find him attractive enough.

Our head coach maybe made a toxic environment for us, but our team would come together at our apartments and do film on our own. Tell me players do that on their own? Because I don’t know about you but I go to the field, I go to the locker room, we have our meeting and as soon as I leave the stadium my mind is off soccer. I want to enjoy my life. I’m a very happy person and I have things outside soccer that allow me to enjoy my life. The fact that we took our own personal time to do film and try to correct how we play to get better as a team, that just shows you how close and how much we respected each other... We were really close this year. I have so much respect for those girls to stick it out that year and try to get better.