When Utah Royals FC kick off the season this Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Washington Spirit at Rio Tinto Stadium, fans can expect to see a more focused, more acclimated side that is ready to win.
“Last year was a learning experience for us,” said forward Amy Rodriguez. ”It was a time to develop chemistry and form relationships. As the season closed, we were really starting to click. The second season with the Royals is our time to shine.”
“The hype was huge [in year one],” added midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta. “Now, we are truly focused on winning. It was always a goal but now we’ve been through it.”
The solid core of veterans on the squad see energetic head coach Laura Harvey’s coaching style as the pathway to playoffs.
“I love how passionate Laura is about the game,” offered Icelandic midfielder Gunny Jónsdóttir. “It gives us motivation on the field, when we can see how passionate she is about the game. I love it. It’s good to be something different.”
The English-born head coach is also gaining status for her entertaining goal celebrations on the sideline after Royals FC finds the back of the net.
“It’s exciting to play for her,” said Rodriguez. “I want to do well for her. She makes playing the game super fun. Constantly during the game, she is yelling ‘get up’ or ‘get back,’ ‘tuck in,’ ‘get wide.’ She is always in our ears being enthusiastic.”
Enthusiasm in the stands will be another key component to Utah’s success in year two.
“Rio Tinto gives us a nice home field advantage,” said forward Katie Stengel. “We really like the connection with the community. It’s huge when everyone can come together. You can see a family atmosphere when you come to the RioT. Dell Loy [Hansen] does a great job putting together a huge field day as part of the game day experience. There’s more than just watching soccer. You come together with your fellow Utahns and enjoy the game we all love.”
In its first season, Royals FC enjoyed the support of the second-highest attendance in the league behind only Portland.
“It’s very intimate,” said goalkeeper Abby Smith. “It’s a family environment. Everyone loves to be there. It can be really loud. It’s a hard place to play.”
Having established some roots in Utah, Smith and her teammates hope year two will yield hardware.
“Last year was so exciting for us but we’re more excited this year,” said midfielder Erika Tymrak. “We have this chip on our shoulder now because there is unfinished business. The whole team, the whole staff feels that way. We’re excited. We’re in a good place to build from. It’s going to be a special year for us.”
“The first season was good,” added Jónsdóttir. “Now, I just want more. We’re definitely striving for playoffs, hoping to bring something home for this club.”