Here are three takeaways from the Utah Royals FC’s season-ending 2-1 win over the Houston Dash.
1. This team likely won’t be back as currently constructed
While parts of the Royals’ season was certainly promising and it appeared that they would surely contend for a National Women’s Soccer League title, the season ended in disappointment for the club. After Saturday’s game, which was one of best wins for Utah in recent memory, the players weren’t shy in expressing their frustration.
So it stands to reason that, after two seasons of failing to reach a goal of making the playoffs, something has to change with the Royals. But what?
It likely won’t be the coach. Laura Harvey herself said she won’t be the next leading woman for the United States Women’s National team and expects to be in Utah next season. Of course, that could change if the organization has different plans. It remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely given the respect she has from her players and around the league.
So it probably will be the roster. With expansion likely in the NWSL, there will be lots of player movement. And after two years of the Royals having many holdovers from the now-defunct Kansas City team, there could be players desiring a change of scenery.
There are also a few players who didn’t make a consistent impact in their 2019 seasons. Katie Bowen, Erika Tymrak and Rachel Corsie are some examples. And goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who had a solid season with 10 clean sheets, just turned 38 years old. Does she have another year in her?
The Royals also were mired by injuries to Kelley O’Hara, Becca Moros, Taylor Lytle and Brittany Ratcliffe, with the latter two experiencing season-ending injuries. Others on the roster were in and out of the lineup with various knocks. It will be up to the organization to figure out which of those players are too injury prone to keep around.
The team Utah had in 2019 had plenty of talent, and it should have made the playoffs this season. The Women’s World Cup can’t be used as an excuse as the entire league was missing players during that time. And teams never like using injuries as an excuse for not succeeding when they feel they should.
Perhaps a shakeup will be good for the Royals moving forward.
2. Royals brought out a lineup looking to win
There was some sentiment among fans that it would have been nice to see Harvey play those who haven’t seen much time on the field this season, such as goalkeeper Abby Smith, or rookies Michelle Maemone and Madeline Nolf.
Instead, Harvey brought out her A-Team, starting Christen Press, Barnhart, Vero Boquete and Becky Sauerbrunn, among others. It sent the message that the Royals weren’t going to lay down against Houston just because they missed the playoffs. They wanted to give fans one last reason to cheer after four-straight losses.
Sure, Harvey could have put out a lineup of reserves and just said, “Go out and have some fun.” But that would have done more of a disservice not only to the fans but also to themselves.
In a way, winning a meaningless game against the Dash to end the season was everything. And on Saturday, the Royals made sure they put themselves in the best possible position to do so.
3. A thank you from your friendly neighborhood beat writer
I never get first-person on these things, but I thought I would take a couple hundred words to express my gratitude to the readers and followers of my work this season.
As some, but maybe not many know, this was my first full season covering the Royals and Real Salt Lake after starting with The Salt Lake Tribune last September. It was a new and somewhat daunting challenge, and I’ve learned a great deal in the first year.
So I just wanted to say I appreciate those who read my stories, follow me on Twitter and listen to the podcasts on which I “appear.” I’m grateful for every single one of you and I look forward to providing you with more coverage next season.