Expectations should never be set too high for a new expansion team, but the Utah Royals rose to the challenge last season, finishing 9-8-7 and just out of reach of a playoffs berth.
Last year, the team suffered a devastating lineup throughout the month of July — a two-game stretch against Portland and Seattle, followed by two games hosting Orlando and North Carolina. The team had previously been in a rhythm of sorts, winning or drawing seven games over the span of May and June, but the three-game streak of losses put the Royals on their heels as the season drew to a close.
Still, the team managed to finish fifth overall, one slot away from the playoffs in its first season. This year, as it continues to grow into the league, Utah will look to improve its consistency to compete against the best of the NWSL.
Royals open 2019 season with D.C. matchup
When: Apr. 20, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
Live stream: Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo! Sports app (U.S.); NWSLsoccer.com (international)
To start the season, the royals head to the opposite coast to take on the Washington Spirit in a game that gives the visiting team potential to start off the 2019 season on a high note. Washington finished last season second-to-last in the NWSL, and its Achilles heel came from its complete lack of offensive attack. The Spirit scored 12 goals across the season, the lowest number in the league and almost half the number of the next-lowest scoring offense, Sky Blue FC, which netted 21 goals total.
The Spirit managed to keep itself somewhat alive through its backline, which only allowed 35 goals on the season, but the sluggishness on the attack kept the team from offering a true potential threat at any time in the season. Without a serious attack offered by the Spirit on the defensive end of the ball, the Royals will be wide open to press the ball up and attack both flanks.
See full schedule here.
Quotes & Notes
“What would you never do with Kelley O’Hara? Get involved with her when she’s running, … she’s an iron woman.” — Head coach Laura Harvey during a preseason practice, reflecting on defender Kelley O’Hara’s strength.
“There was something that brought me back to the US. I hope that this season is the year we can win. There is something special year because we have everything here to be successful.” — Midfielder Verónica Boquete, who signed with the team during the offseason.
Biggest offseason moves
- On Jan. 4, 2019, the team announced the signing of Verónica Boquete, a Spanish international star with years of club and international experience. Boquete has netted 10 goals with the Spanish national team, and she hasn’t played in the NWSL since she left the Portland Thorns in 2014.
- With one of the team’s third-round picks, Utah selected Michelle Maemone No. 23 overall in the 2019 NWSL Draft. The defender played four years for Pepperdine University, where she started 69 games and scored three goals. Maemone added four assists over her career. She can play both sides of the field, splitting time as a forward and defender while helping the team to a conference-best 0.82 goals-against average.
- With the second of the team’s third-round picks, Utah selected Madeline Nolf at No. 27 overall. The defender helped Penn State’s defense to 14 shutouts in her senior year and recorded seven shots over her career.
- In the fourth round of the draft, the royals selected Alex Kimball with the No. 32 overall pick. Kimball recovered from a hip injury to become the starting center forward for the University of North Carolina in her senior season. She netted nine goals and tallied seven assists across her four seasons with the Tar Heels.
Forwards: Taylor Lytle, 30; Christen Press, 30; Brittany Ratcliffe, 25; Amy Rodriguez, 32; Katie Stengel, 27
Midfielders: Katie Bowen, 24; Makenzy Doniak, 25; Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, 30; Lo’eau LaBonta, 26; Mandy Laddish, 26; Diana Matheson, 35; Becca Moros, 33; Desiree Scott, 31; Erika Tymrak, 27
Defenders: Rachel Corsie, 29; Samantha Johnson, 27; Sydney Miramontez, 24; Kelley O’Hara, 30; Becky Sauerbrunn, 33
Goalkeepers: Nicole Barnhart, 37; Abby Smith, 25
See full roster details here.