The Utah Royals are less than a month away from hosting the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup. Just a few days ago, they started training as a full team in preparation for it.
But one key player will be absent from the tournament.
Christen Press, forward for the Royals and the U.S. Women’s National Team, won’t return to Utah to play in the Challenge Cup, per two people with knowledge of the situation. Coach Craig Harrington said recently that the club was in discussions with her and fellow USWNT player Kelley O’Hara about them playing in the tournament.
O’Hara did come back to Utah, and she was on the field Tuesday for practice. So was Canadian national teamer and Royals midfielder Desiree Scott.
For Scott, getting to be back on the field with her teammates was a welcome change.
“I was definitely doing my little dance when I got my official OK to come out with the team,” Scott said Tuesday. “Just being back here, being able to connect with everyone again is fantastic. That’s why I enjoy the sport.”
Scott is one of the international players who was out of market for some time after the NWSL season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And she wasn’t the only international player back with the Royals.
O’Hara is expected to play in the tournament, which starts June 27, but will be on a minutes restriction like the other players on the USWNT. Megan Rapinoe, a USWNT star who also plays for the OL Reign, has already been ruled out. Reign coach Farid Benstiti said she won’t play in the Challenge Cup.
Harrington said that new assistant coach Louis Lancaster is also with the team.
“It feels like the family’s together and now we can crack on 21 days out from the tournament,” Harrington said.
Scott said there are still players on the team getting to know each other’s names because the club brought in several new faces. In that sense, there’s some growing to do, she said.
But the club is anxious for that growth and to translate it to the field.
“We’ve had an extra long offseason — or an extra long pre-preseason,” Scott said. “So we’re wanting to get out here, get after it and work as we can because the days are getting shorter before tournament time, and we want to be ready for that.”
The Royals drew the Washington Spirit as their first opponent for the tournament. Harrington said he’s been “drip feeding” his players on principles and tactics so far. But the focus is squarely on the Spirit.
“We can’t tiptoe around things,” Harrington said. “It’s right into the meat and potatoes of what we’re looking for and hopefully prepared to play Washington.”