Sandy • Entering the second half of what ended as a draw May 19 against the North Carolina Courage, Utah Royals FC coach Laura Harvey asked rookie Gaby Vincent to start warming up.
Vincent, a rookie center back who had yet to play a single minute, couldn’t help but do a double take.
After Harvey’s request, Vincent turned to teammate Raisa Strom-Okimoto, who had recently signed a national team replacement contract, to voice her confusion and attempt to get an answer.
“Why do you think she told me to warm up?” Vincent asked.
The answer was simple. Vincent was to make her debut appearance as a professional soccer player. She subbed for Samantha Johnson and played the remainder of the game. A week later, she made her first professional start in a win over the Orlando Pride. In all, Vincent has started three consecutive games at center back.
But the 21-year-old Vincent wasn’t anyone’s first choice before the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League started. She wasn’t anyone’s choice, period. The College Draft came and went, and no team picked Vincent, who played four years at the University of Louisville — the same school Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell attended.
“When I didn’t get drafted, it was still a little blow to my ego,” Vincent said, adding that she knew it would be a long shot. “But I think it humbled me so much.”
Vincent didn’t give up on her dream. Several teams invited her to open tryouts and she planned to attend as many as she could. The first on her list happened to be with the Royals.
Throughout the tryout, Harvey saw in Vincent a center back who was good on the ball and could connect passes at an elite level. That bore out against Orlando when she made a diagonal pass from the backfield to the opposite side of midfield, Harvey said.
“We need that in our team,” Harvey said. "I think all of our center backs are good footballers, and Gaby is the same in that term.”
Once the Royals invited Vincent to participate in preseason, the player didn’t go to any more tryouts. In any other season, it’s likely that Vincent would not have even gotten a tryout invite. But because so many Utah defenders are away competing in the Women’s World Cup, Vincent has been needed to fill that role.
So far, Vincent is just trying to glean as much as she can. On the first day she started, teammate Sydney Miramontez told her to look around at all the players, some of whom are among the best in the world at their position. It was the most impactful advice she received.
“I realized maybe I won’t get it right away,” Vincent said. “I don’t have the [same] experience as them, but I can try my best, and I work hard and I can learn from them.”
Vincent said she has also received sound advice and a welcoming feeling from Samantha Johnson, Rachel Corsie and Vero Boquete. Mitchell also showed his support for Vincent, who, on advice from a coach, reached out to the Jazz guard soon after arriving in Utah.
Once some of the international players begin to trickle in from France, Vincent could be relegated to a reserve role once again. Until that happens, she will continue her mission of proving herself to not only be worthy of a roster spot but also be an asset to the club.
“I go in every day with that mentality, with that chip on my shoulder,” Vincent said. “Maybe I don’t deserve to be here, but I worked so hard to make myself deserve to be here, and I think the coaches recognize my work ethic and they trust me now.”
UTAH ROYALS FC at PORTLAND THORNS
At Providence Park, Portland
Kickoff » Friday, 9 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Last meeting » Portland 4, URFC 0 (July 6, 2018, Providence Park)
Records » URFC 5-2-1, Portland 4-1-3
About Portland » Meghan Klingenberg is tied for first in the league with three assists. … Scored 16 goals so far this season, which is tied for most in the league. … Thorns have played only one game at home this year. It was a win. … On a three-game undefeated streak.
About URFC » Sit second in NWSL, one point behind the Washington Spirit. … Amy Rodriguez leads with five goals. … Coming off another 1-0 win last weekend. … Average 0.6 goals allowed per game. ... Vero Boquete is out with a right ankle injury. ... Lo’eau LaBonta will return after serving a two-game suspension.