Though facing a steep learning curve, Utah Royals FC has quickly developed team chemistry

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC midfielder Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir (66) celebrates after Utah Royals FC defender Rachel Corsie (2) scored the game tying goal, in Soccer action between Utah Royals FC and Portland Thorns FC, in Sandy, Friday, July 19, 2019.

A maximum of seven games in any iteration of a season — whether it’s a summer tournament or a full slate of games — would generally be considered too small a sample size for any team to comprehensively evaluate itself.

And for the Utah Royals FC, throwing in a new coach, new formation and a slew of new players would presumably make it all the more challenging to figure out exactly what the team is and can be going forward.

But Royals defender Gunnhildur Jonsdottir said all it took was one game.

“For us, I think we all surprised ourselves in the first game,” Jonsdottir said Tuesday during a videoconference call.

The Royals came back from a two goal deficit to tie the Houston Dash in the team’s opener of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup last week. Rookie Tziarra King put together a breakout performance, and the team as a whole looked as though it would make good on coach Craig Harrington’s promise to be more offensive minded.

Utah followed that up with a win over Sky Blue FC in which it allowed zero shots on goal and solidified the importance of forward Amy Rodriguez and midfielder Veronica Boquete’s on-field connection.

The team feels it has grown significantly over the course of only two games despite not getting much time to acclimate to a new formation or prepare in general for a monthlong tournament that will likely be the only NWSL competition in 2020.



When • Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.

Stream • CBS All-Access

But in talking about the new 3-5-2 formation, Jonsdottir hinted at a deeper connection that’s already formed among the Royals players.

“We go on the field and we’re ready to put our butts on the line to win,” Jonsdottir said. “So to me, I don’t think we need anything more than 10 minutes in a game to get us going. So whether it’s a whole season or seven games, I think you’ll always get the same from us — in whatever formation that is.”

Defender Michelle Maemone said learning a new system was very difficult to accomplish in a short time span, especially given that many on the team had never played a 3-5-2 before. She said accomplish that feat is a testament to the team’s overall character and togetherness.

“I think this group is really special for so many different reasons,” Maemone said. “But I think the biggest thing is there’s such a sense of camaraderie amongst the team and I think it has shown and it will continue to be shown on the field, which is exciting.”

Utah’s third game of the Challenge Cup is Wednesday against the OL Reign at 10:30 a.m. It’ll be another opportunity for more growth, but Harrington said it’s not only the games that he’s focusing on when assessing the potential of his team.

“It’s not just the games where we’re evaluating players — it’s all the time,” Harrington said. “It’s their body language when they come to training, when they leave, what input they have, what the contribute to our group, what they contribute out on the field, what they contribute when they’re on the sidelines. It’s more than just 90 minutes of soccer that we’re trying to put gather here.”