Utah Royals coach, assistant put on administrative leave before club’s game at Portland

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Royals FC announce former Chicago Red Stars assistant Craig Harrington as its new head coach during a press event at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.

Utah Royals FC won’t have two coaches for the foreseeable future.

Head coach Craig Harrington and assistant Louis Lancaster have been placed on administrative leave by the club, a spokesperson said. The news was first announced during the broadcast of Utah’s 3-0 loss to the Portland Thorns on Sunday that marked the Royals' first game of the National Women’s Soccer League Fall Series.

Assistant coach Amy LePeilbet has been named interim head coach, a club spokesperson said.

The Athletic reported that Harrington’s and Lancaster’s leaves are directly related to the ongoing investigations into alleged racist and sexist comments and other workplace misconduct in the team’s front office that has surfaced in recent weeks. Harrington allegedly made several comments of a sexual nature to staff members, but apparently not to or about any players, according to The Athletic.

Forward Amy Rodriguez, captain of the Royals, did not address the coaching situation after the game. She suggested that she was told not to speak about it.

“Right now, the club has told me that I am not in a position to comment about the staff at this time,” she said.

Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League have both been investigating allegations related to owner Dell Loy Hansen and Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll. A person with knowledge of the situation told The Salt Lake Tribune that about 35 current and former employees have answered questions in relation to the investigation.

LePeilbet was asked twice about the timeline of when she learned she would step in to the role of interim head coach. Both times, she did not offer specifics.

“It was pretty quick, so it happened pretty fast,” LePeilbet said. “So, we moved quickly.”

The Royals players released a joint statement before their game against Portland kicked off. It broadly spoke against racism, sexism and the work environment as it relates to the Utah Soccer organization, but not did specifically address Harrington or Lancaster.

It appears clear, however, that the statement was released in connection with the team’s decision to put the two coaches on leave.

“We’ve had enough,” the statement reads “Enough of the racist systems excluding black and brown people. Enough of sexist stereotypes infiltrating conversations about our talent and achievements as athletes. Enough of a work environment that is not open and inclusive for all. We acknowledge the past wrongdoings of this organization and choose to move forward in a new direction.”

Vero Boquete said the players took their time in gathering their thoughts surrounding what they wanted to say not only about the issues surrounding Hansen and Carroll, but also the most recent coaching developments.

“Some people was kind of [asking] why we didn’t say anything,” Boquete said. “We just needed our time to come together with something that we really feel. I think the statement is clear and we are all together on that. We just want to be better and we demand better.”

In the week heading into the game against Portland, the club did not make any players available to media. It’s common practice that a day or two before, Harrington and select players will talk about an upcoming contest.

The leaves of Harrington and Lancaster come amid Hansen choosing to sell Utah Soccer, the holding company that consists of three Utah professional soccer teams and their facilities. He chose to sell after allegations that he had made sexist comments during his time as owner surfaced. Carroll is also currently on a leave of absence after reports came out alleging he contributed to a toxic work environment with sexist behavior, racist comments and other types of workplace misconduct.