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Head straight east from America First Field and in about 5.5 miles you’ll arrive at the base of the Wasatch Mountain Range, and the Bell Canyon Granite trailhead. There you’ll be greeted by oaks, firs and a sign with “Wasatch National Forest” etched into its wooden surface. 

This is where Utah Royals defender Imani Dorsey began her first ascent into the mountains that surround her new home. 

“This is my first time living this far west from Maryland,” Dorsey said. “It's been such a nice change from the East Coast. I love being outside, and I feel like I just have a better connection to the outdoors here, which feels really special. It's a little bit of a slower pace from the East Coast too, which I really enjoy as well. It's good for my own mental health.”

The former NJ/NY Gotham FC player and Maryland native joined the Royals this offseason as a free agent ahead of the Club’s inaugural season. 

A new landscape and a new headspace. 

Last NWSL season, Dorsey stepped away from soccer to focus on her mental health and Saturday at America First Field will be her first game since the 2022 season. The new Royals defender penned a statement on Instagram detailing her decision, which fans can read here.

“I definitely feel like I'm in such a different headspace from where I've been in years past,” Dorsey said. “I think I've put a lot of pressure on myself and a lot of expectations.

“Understandably, this sport carries a lot. But I think from my perspective it's also an opportunity. It's a privilege and approaching every day like that, feeling like it could go away at any moment is something that's really given me that joy and that lightness back that I haven't had. And I think keeping that levity in the moments that feel really overwhelming and stressful is like what I need moving forward.”

The 2018 NWSL Rookie of the Year has had a stellar career so far. She earned her first senior USWNT cap in 2021 and later that year would win the U.S. Soccer’s first One Nation Social Impact Award for her work with the Black Women’s Player Collective (BWPC). Over five seasons with Gotham, she tallied 6 goals and two assists.

Now after a year off, she’s ready for a reset in Utah. One of her former Gotham teammates will be with her every step of the way. 

“Imani is such a constant, she is such a rock,” newly appointed Royals captain Paige Monaghan said.

“She doesn't give herself enough credit for how much she brings to the team on and off the field. And I've played with her before and honestly, I'm so excited to be playing again with her.”

Dorsey is excited to be playing again too. 

“I've been on an interesting journey in my career, but as I've gotten older and older I've rediscovered that love and passion for the game, which I think is something that unfortunately, can sometimes be hard to come by,” Dorsey said. 

Monaghan and Dorsey started their careers as rookies at Gotham and grew into the league together on the east coast. Now both aged 27, the two NWSL vets have taken the leadership mantle for their young and hungry team. 

“We're a younger team,” Dorsey said. “The fact that I'm one of the oldest and being almost 28 is crazy to me, but we've got a lot of people who've got a really good heart and a really good center.

I think if we keep that value at the core of what we want to do and who we want to be. we'll be able to weather storms in this season as well.”

Back in the outdoors, after climbing a few miles up the Bell Canyon Granite trailhead, Dorsey found the first waterfall of the trail. “It was awesome”, Dorsey said, experiencing the same freeing sentiments so many Utahns have shared exploring the trails up and down the Wasatch Range.  

No matter the mountains the Royals defender has left to climb or the storms the young team might face this season, Dorsey is just happy to be back on the field with her teammates, and thankful for the opportunity to play again.

“I think this opportunity has been incredibly special to continue to learn more about myself and to grow, to be part of a team and help the team win a championship.”