NWSL Preview: 2018 Utah Royals Boast Big Names for Inaugural Season

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SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Becky Sauerbrunn #4 of the United States gives directions to teammates during a friendly match against Canada at Avaya Stadium on November 12, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (March 21, 2018) – After the demise of FC Kansas City, the Utah Royals have set up their mark at Rio Tinto Stadium.

2018 Utah Royals NWSL Preview

Immediately after FC Kansas City folded, Utah was selected as the new home for an NWSL club. Owned by Dell Loy Hansen, who has owned Real Salt Lake since October 2009, the Royals brought over some familiar faces from the Midwest.

Becky Sauerbrunn, longtime captain of FC Kansas City, was the first player to announce her intention to join.

She was soon followed by fellow FC Kansas City veterans Desiree Scott, Amy Rodriguez, Erika Tymrak, and Becca Moros, to name a few.

The Royals also took an international approach to their roster, signing Icelandic midfielder Gunnhildur “Gunny” Jónsdóttir. This is her first year in the NWSL after featuring for club teams in Iceland and Norway.

Rachel Corsie, a native of Scotland, also signed with the club on March 19. She has 94 appearances with the Scottish Women’s National Team and spent the last three seasons with the Seattle Reign.

Corsie will bring some familiarity to Head Coach Laura Harvey, who is the club’s first manager. Vlatko Andonvoski left the club after FC Kansas City’s demise and swapped clubs with Harvey.

“Rachel’s knowledge of my setup from our time in Seattle is key, as is her unflappable attitude and Scotland international experience,” Harvey said.

Utah recently just unveiled their world-class locker room, which was praised by the players all over social media. The Royals are aiming to do what the North Carolina Courage did last season: change their venue, team and brand and make a postseason run.

Player to Watch

Abby Smith joined the club after the Boston Breakers folded.

Smith was one of Utah’s picks in the Dispersal Draft. She now joins a goalkeeper group that also includes Nicole Barnhart. Draft pick E.J. Proctor was waived in the first round of roster cuts that were announced Monday.

Barnhart is 36-years-old and featured in all 24 matches for FC Kansas City last season. As for Smith, she featured in 19 matches for the Breakers.

Right now, the Royals have Smith listed as the No. 1 goalkeeper. Odds are that the spot will remain Smith’s unless she underperforms or an injury comes up.

Smith had past issues with her hamstring last season.

However, if she can remain healthy, Smith could be seen as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Now, she is on a team that has a proven, and winning, coach. She’s surrounded by one of best defenders in the league in Sauerbrunn.

Thoughts on Head Coach Laura Harvey

Harvey never won an NWSL championship — but she came pretty close.

For two straight seasons, Harvey led the Seattle Reign to the NWSL championship against FC Kansas City. Both times, the Reign fell, but put on a show for fans.

Harvey’s best asset is recruiting players — and drafting them.

In this year’s NWSL College Draft, Harvey selected defender Taylor Isom and goalkeeper E.J. Proctor. With the loss of Yael Averbuch to the Seattle Reign (Andonvoski and Harvey are really loving this pipline of trades and swaps), Isom, who featured in college for Brigham Young University.

Harvey is making Utah an appealable place, hence the international signings of Jónsdóttir and Corsie. Harvey also managed to bring U.S. Women’s National Team player — and national team defender — Kelley O’Hara.

O’Hara was part of a trade with Sky Blue FC. For Sky Blue to trade away their franchise player — and one of their most popular players — meant that Harvey reeled in O’Hara.

It will be interesting to see what position Harvey slots O’Hara, who is a natural forward.

Off-Season Losses

Technically, Utah didn’t suffer any losses since they’re a new team. However, since many FC Kansas City players went to Utah, it’s only fair to count those players.

Shea Groom was the biggest loss. In the trade with Sky Blue FC, Utah sent Groom to New Jersey in return for O’Hara.

Groom always managed to have her name mention for FC Kansas City last season. She was their most consistent player, starting in 21 out of 22 matches. She scored five goals and provided six assists.

Groom filled the role of injured forward Amy Rodriguez as a top striker.

Now, Groom will fill the role of departing forward Sam Kerr for Sky Blue FC. While those are big shoes to fill, Groom has proven that she’s up for the task.

Season Prediction

For their first season, Utah is stacked.

The talent throughout the whole roster is incredible. The only position that has me a tiny bit worried is the goalkeeper position. However, I don’t think it will take long for Smith to get comfortable with Sauerbrunn, O’Hara and Taylor Lytle.

I predict that the Utah Royals will win the NWSL Shield and eventually win the NWSL Championship.

Harvey is overdue for her first NWSL victory, and you better believe that Sauerbrunn wants to win after the tumultuous season in Kansas City last year.

Right now, it’s Utah’s season to lose.

They have all the pieces to complete their puzzle.

2018 NWSL Preview Series
Chicago Red Stars
Houston Dash
North Carolina Courage
Orlando Pride
Portland Thorns
Sky Blue FC
Seattle Reign
Washington Spirit

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