Sandy • For nearly the entire 2019 season, the Utah Royals FC have not been at full strength.
There were injuries to start the season, then just as the Royals had some of those players get healthy, six starters left Utah for France to compete in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Three of those six — Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press of the United States — only played two games with the Royals. The other three — Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie and Desiree Scott — left later.
And even as the tournament chugged closer and closer to the USWNT winning its fourth title, other Utah players became unavailable. Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta was suspended for two games. Midfielder Vero Boquete hurt her ankle and has missed the previous two games. Center back Samantha Johnson retired.
But despite all the roster shuffling, the Royals have managed to win games. They have been atop the National Women’s Soccer League standings more than once, and are only three points away from being there again. And now that the World Cup is over, some familiar faces are starting to trickle in.
Bowen, Corsie and Scott returned to Utah recently and have been training with the team in preparation for Friday’s road game against Sky Blue FC in New Jersery. And with Utah not playing a game last week due to a bye, Boquete could have had enough rest to be available Friday.
Sauerbrunn, O’Hara and Press are slated to return July 19, when the Royals play the Portland Thorns at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Now the challenge, particularly for those returning from the World Cup, is reintegrating back into a Royals team from which they’ve been away for almost two months.
“It’s difficult,” Bowen said of readjusting to her club team. “But you kind of get a few trainings in and it’s kind of like riding a bike — you get back into the swing of things.”
Bowen, Corsie and Scott all started the first three games of the season before they began joining their respective national teams. They would presumably go back to those roles up their return, but they’re not taking anything for granted.
“The group have been here working hard every single day and their focus hasn’t changed,” Corsie said. "Obviously you have to work to get your spot back, to get a place on the team, to add something and bring something back to the group. That’s what’s expected of you. … All of us who have been away on national team duty will do their absolute best to give everything they can to be a support and to be a positive for the group in whatever way that looks.”
Bowen said coming back to the team will be a smooth transition because of the environment around and the closeness of the team. But she also is of the opinion that her spot in the lineup won’t just be gifted to her.
“These girls have worked hard while we were away, so nothing’s a given,” Bowen said. “So you just have to work your a-- off to make sure you get your spot back and help in any way that you can.”
For the Royals, this season is playoffs or bust. And for the three players returning from France after not getting far in the World Cup, that goal could alleviate some of the disappointment they’re currently feeling.
“It’s nice to have something to still fight for and play for,” Scott said.
UTAH ROYALS AT VS. SKY BLUE FC
At Yurcak Field, Piscataway, New Jersey
Kickoff » Friday, 5:30 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » URFC 1, Sky Blue 0 (June 15, 2019, Rio Tinto Stadium
Records » URFC 5-3-2, Sky Blue 1-7-2
About Sky Blue » Has yet to win a home game this season (0-4-1). … Raquel Rodríguez leads team with three goals. … Keeper Kailen Sheridan has an 81.3% save percentage, fourth-best in the league. … Tied for the least amount of goals in the league (eight).
About URFC » Have dropped to fifth in the league standings, one spot under the playoff line. … One of five teams with five wins on the season. … Royals have the third-worse record in the league on the road (1-2-1). … Amy Rodriguez leads team with five goals.