Utah Royals FC expects to hire new coach in the next month

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stephanie Lee, the new general manager for the Utah Royals FC.

Utah Royals FC didn’t expect coach Laura Harvey to leave.

After the head-coaching job of the U.S. Women’s National Team went to former Reign FC coach Vlatko Andonovski, Royals General Manager Stephanie Lee thought Harvey would be staying put. The work Lee and Harvey were already doing to prepare for the 2020 season could continue unencumbered.

But then U.S. Soccer asked Lee for permission to speak to Harvey about a coaching position. And as she learned more about the job and opportunity Harvey would have, Lee thought the gig would be too good to pass up.

Harvey officially left the Royals a week and a half ago to coach the Under-20 contingent of the USWNT. The Royals named Scott Parkinson the interim coach.

Lee told The Salt Lake Tribune that she’s already conducted about 15 phone interviews with job candidates and the pool is even bigger than that. Several candidates are women.

Lee wants to make a hire by early February. She said Parkinson is the club’s only internal candidate, adding that assistant coach Amy LePeilbet, who led the Royals Reserves to the Women’s Professional Soccer League championship game, is not in the mix this go-around.

“Amy has a future with this club, certainly,” Lee said. “But she's still got some growth ahead of her before she becomes someone that we would look at as a head coach candidate. But she's someone that we certainly want to keep around and hope that she stays in the RSL system for quite some time.”

Lee is seeking a coach who wants to be part of a collaborative environment within the Real Salt Lake organization.

“I think that that's important because it's not just collaborative within the Royals, it's across all four teams from RSL Academy, Monarchs to RSL,” Lee said. “All the technical staff, all the GM and front office staff are are incredibly collaborative.”

Lee likes her choices and believes that the Royals will not lose a step under a new leader.

Beyond the coaching search, Lee has also been working on URFC’s roster for 2020. She made two trades that netted her the 12th pick in the upcoming draft and two upcoming picks in 2021.

The reasoning behind those trades, she said, was to put the Royals in a better position to compete next season and also look ahead to the future. Trading forward Katie Stengel was an example of both goals. Lee said with the way the roster shifted in 2019, Stengel’s fit began to get murky, so moving her and getting two picks was in the best interest for both parties.

In Lee’s mind, the starting 11 needs to improve in “one or two positions” — another reason Stengel was traded — and the bench needs to get deeper. Lee said the club is not yet done making moves this offseason.

The upcoming draft is the main focus right now, Lee said. She said the club will look for ways to fill the gaps left by the athletes who may compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Lee also said she’s looking at the 2020 draft to fill gaps “from an age perspective.” More than half of Utah’s starters last season were at least 30 years old.

Utah will have five draft picks in 2021, the most in club history. That’s important for the Royals because when Harvey was with the team, she took more of a win-now approach and focused on getting veteran talent, Lee said. “Now we’re taking this transition opportunity to think about what do we need to do to be good right now and in the future."