‘We go for it’: A legendary player from Spain has Utah Royals FC thinking it can chase a championship

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC hosts Washington Spirit, NWSL soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Wed. Aug. 8, 2018. The Royals gather following their 1-0 win.

Herriman • One of the many newbies is still adjusting to the cold and the altitude, two staples of her new home, but on Day 1 of preseason, the club’s main offseason acquisition was all smiles.

Vero Boquete, the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Spanish national team (38 goals), represents evolution at the club, as it enters its second year. Everything about 2018 was special because the first year always is, and Utah Royals FC changed the game in the NWSL on so many fronts, in particular on making the athletes truly feel like professionals.

The shine of the first-year franchise shifts now from introducing itself to a community to competing for the ultimate prize: a league crown. That’s part of what brought Boquete back to the United States: a shot at an NWSL title. Now 31, she’s won a Champions League title and was the face of Spain on the international stage for years. But after Royals coach Laura Harvey told her she wanted Boquete to be that potential missing link for a team that scored just 22 goals in 24 matches a year ago, Boquete was immediately sold.

“I can be part of the journey,” she said after moving from Chinese club Beijing BG Phoenix. “The standards are high, the goals are high. I’m really the busiest player. If you talk to me about winning, then I’m in.”

She is, and she’s part of a preseason camp that is missing the club’s big-name players such as captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, off with the U.S. women’s national team at the SheBelieves Cup. Harvey is absent for most of this week, too, partaking in a coaching license course. Being short-handed won’t necessarily be the theme of the 2019, but it will become very commonplace. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France kicks off in June, meaning the best players around the globe will, if healthy, participate.

How does a seasoned veteran and established name like Boquete help? She’s been through it all.

“I think it’s really important to be a team,” she said. “Everyone has to feel that it’s important. Everyone has their own role. When we miss the international players, everyone has to take their chance. Since the first day, everyone is clear about that.”

A year ago, the Royals missed the postseason by just two points. Goalkeeper Abby Smith, who started 17 matches last season, was adamant that the club isn’t going to accept anything less than a postseason appearance in 2019.

“I think we’re holding each other more accountable,” she said. “We’re not going to let off the gas.”

Like Boquete, Smith echoed the need for the entire roster to raise one another in a World Cup year: “We have to expect the best from each other.”

For the next 10 days, the Royals will continue this first part of the preseason in Herriman before trekking to Southern California for a weeklong stint in Los Angeles. All Royals currently on national-team duty are expected to arrive in Utah after their respective tournaments come to a conclusion. The Royals open the regular season April 20 against the Washington Spirit.

Boquete didn’t shy away from the lofty expectations, either, asked about the prospect of not just making the postseason but competing for the league title, she said: “We go for it."