The second day of preseason is a bit like the second day of a college course, you’ve been over the basics and the professor is ready to start teaching and move on. However, when you look around you still scratch your head, wondering who some of the faces are on either side of where you’re standing. It’s the exploration phase of a new relationship, figuring out where you fit and how you work together.
At Utah Royals FC there are plenty of new faces to get to know, making the first week of preseason crucial in establishing culture and chemistry.
Head Coach Craig Harrington spoke on how this first week of preseason is about establishing the team identity, practicing how they want to play, being the best at the fundamentals and ultimately getting to know one another.
For the defense that sentiment is even clearer, with the team returning six defenders from last year’s squad, three of which are entering their second year in the league and with more than half of those players under the age of 25, the dynamic of the backline changes drastically. On top of this, the club will look to two new players to fill a crucial role on the backline throughout the season.
Elizabeth Ball is among the group new to Salt Lake City. The young defender was just recently traded from Portland Thorns FC and has had just a week under her belt to get acclimated to the new terrain with high altitudes and mountains.
Despite being just 24-years-old, Ball is one of the more experienced defenders as she has the fourth-most appearances behind National Women’s Soccer League veterans -- Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie and Kelley O’Hara. However, with the internationals away on business with their federations, Ball stands alone as the only defender in camp to have seen more than 20 NWSL matches, something the Royals are sure to lean on this season.
Taylor Leach is also new to this squad’s group of defenders. The Ohio-native joined Utah over the offseason via free agency from Sweden where she played for Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC.
While the centerback has yet to get minutes in a NWSL match, Leach brings a different type of experience, having spent several years as a starter in the Swedish first division. In just three years she played in nearly 100 matches and helped her squad to multiple league title appearances.
And while this team will likely focus heavily on offensive production in the coming weeks, it’s the camaraderie and rapport built in these early weeks of preseason that will help push the defense through into the season.