It was a moment that encapsulated the inaugural season for Utah Royals FC.
After scoring a comeback win over the Chicago Red Stars in front of a crowd of 11,851 at Rio Tinto Stadium, the Utah players scattered throughout the stadium to sign autographs and take photos with each and every fan they could, doing their part to say thank you for the unwavering support throughout the club’s first season in Sandy.
Desiree Scott and Gunny Jónsdóttir danced their way around the field. Katie Stengel celebrated her Golden Boot season by posing in the throne at the south end of the stadium. Laura Harvey posed for selfies with fans in the northwest corner.
And quietly on the west side, a young fan quietly asked Abby Smith for a signed pair of gloves.
Smith had encountered Delilah on several occasions throughout the year, most recently at the Meet the Team event two nights earlier. Each time, the two bonded and each time Smith had to let her know that as soon as she had gloves with her, she would sign them for her.
So after the match, Smith ran into the locker room and retrieved her gloves to sign for Delilah.
It wasn’t just a memento from one of her favorite players though.
“She broke down in tears because she was so excited and so thankful. It made me start crying. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve been so impactful just by saying hi and giving her a pair of gloves,” Smith said. “She said she’s going to put them in a case and then when she’s old enough to play on the Royals she’s going to wear them. It meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to me because it gives her hope that she can play in this league. … I will remember this forever.”
Her story was just one of many tales of Utah Royals FC players connecting with fans of all ages with their play on the field and their involvement in the community that supported them throughout the year.
While the burden of carrying professional women’s soccer into a new era in the United States can be a heavy one to bear at times, it is one Royals FC takes very seriously and embraces with open arms.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a professional team to look up to. I didn’t have a player that I wanted to be like other than someone on the national team like a Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy. I think it’s so awesome for these young girls who are growing up right now to have professional soccer in their future,” said URFC and U.S. forward Amy Rodriguez. “I hope these little girls who are watching us play are being inspired by us. I’m humbled to do that. I’m in a wonderful place in my life where I can hopefully motivate and inspire young girls. I hope to continue to do that every day.”
Throughout the year, players could be seen throughout the Wasatch Front meeting with fans and celebrating the growth of women’s soccer in a burgeoning community.
The platform they were given with the launch of the NWSL club just furthered their message to young women throughout the region – all players, male and female, can strive to be professional soccer players. The far-off dream that young girls could grow to be just like the players they watched on TV with the U.S. National Team and in NWSL matches that they could catch on the occurrences when they were broadcast in the region was brought to reality when they could watch the matches in person.
“The crowds left the most positive mark. Everything the club did was fantastic in terms of setting the benchmark for new clubs in this league, but the support we got from the fans from the opening game and through to this last game – everyone seemed genuinely excited that we were here and that there was women’s professional soccer in Utah,” midfielder and Canadian National Teamer Diana Matheson said. “It means everything to be that appreciated by the community. We want to help build a club here that will last and win championships. It was a bit surreal how passionate the fans were about us. … Hopefully we put on a good show for them.”
Added Kelley O’Hara, “I think my lasting impression is the fans at the games – how involved they are, how excited they are and how engaged they are. I only got to play a handful of games for this club, but I loved the support we received from them at games and throughout the community and in general the feeling of playing at home and playing in front of such amazing people.”
The season started with a remarkable crowd of 19,203 at Rio Tinto Stadium for the home opener. Throughout the year, the club continued to set a high standard for crowd support, with the average attendance of 9,466 exceeded only by the Portland Thorns.
Those fans not only flooded the gates at each home match, but also supported the team at community events and on the streets of Salt Lake City, where players were frequently recognized around town and praised all year.
“This place has been unreal when it comes to the community. Everyone was so loving and really supportive and they genuinely wanted us to do well and keep growing,” Smith said. “They are thankful that we are giving their daughters and sons someone to look up to because we are in the community. We want to pour into this community because they’re pouring into us. We love that we’ve been so welcomed with open arms. It’s been amazing.”
The feeling was felt from top-to-bottom on the Utah roster and leaves the players filled with gratification in the club and the community.
“The fan base here in Utah was so special. They supported us all season long. They were also out at our practices and at appearances. The Royals fans really stepped out for us and cheered us on. That created a great environment for us to play in,” Rodriguez said. “I’m proud to play for this city.”
For 2019 Utah Royals FC season tickets, call 884-REAL-TIX (844-732-5849).