Utah Royals FC kicked off its inaugural preseason today at the Zion’s Bank Real Academy Training Center in Herriman – just 15 minutes from its Rio Tinto Stadium home – the world-class venue serving as the club’s practice facility up to and through a March 3 preseason scrimmage against Brigham Young University. The new team commenced the initial session with a new energy—and with new teammates. “As the first day of preseason, it is really exciting to get out there on the field and to play, get the nerves out of you, and to get a feel for your teammates,” said USWNT co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who is rehabbing a foot injury. “All around it was a really good first day.”
While Monday marked the first official day of training for the Utah side, a majority of the girls are not new to playing at the professional level. NWSL veterans like FW Katie Stengel or MF Becca Moros made their appearance today, bringing years of experience to a team trying to find its chemistry. The new team is also home to multiple international stars, such as MF Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, a product of the Iceland Women’s National Team. “I am speechless…I have felt right at home since the start,” said Jonsdottir, who will be traveling to Iceland next week to prepare for the prestigious Algarve Cup in Portugal. “Just from the first day you can see that we have already started forming relationships — which is not very common —so you can see this is a great group of girls.”
Utah Royals FC offers an eager roster of players fighting for contracts and playing time. Included in today’s session were 12 trialists — DF Kendall Johnson, MF Allie Wisner, DF Jordan O’Brien, GK Rebecca Ritchie, MF Colette Smith, FW Victoria Shimkus, DF Natalie Norris, MF Annie Hawkins, MF Lydia Simmons and DF Dominique Randles, as well as 2018 NWSL College Draft picks GK EJ Proctor and DF Taylor Isom— all of whom are fighting for a spot on the final roster in late March. The evolving dynamic of new players pushing for a position has increased the intensity and focus at training, expecting to ultimately better the team. As the initial practice progressed, so did the pace of play.
“Just to get used to everything today has been nice,” said two-time NWSL Coach of the Year Laura Harvey. “First session is always nuts— you never know what to expect, so it’s nice to get it in the books. Preseason is all about progression, and it started today.”
One of the main goals for the training included breaking the ice between the new teammates and staff.
“I think the best thing girls can do [to bond] is be around each other,” said Harvey. “Ultimately we don’t have to be best friends, but just respect each other when we are on and around the field.”
Harvey and the rest of Utah Royals FC will be back at the Zion’s Bank Real Academy Training Center Tuesday, with on-field, lifting and video sessions throughout the remainder of this historic week.
Utah Royals FC trained without team captain Sauerbrunn as she rehabs from a foot injury sustained at the USWNT camp in January. FW Amy Rodriguez, who is returning from an ACL tear, and GK Nicole Barnhart, who is recovering from an off-season ankle surgery, also eased into today’s training session.
Said Harvey: "We just are taking things day-by-day. We are at a point with their injuries where it is how they feel. A-Rod felt great, so she sort of progressed a little more than what anyone would have thought. Barny us taking things steady; it's an injury that we have to be careful with. So the progressions will be looked at everyday."