Utah Royals want to ‘soak up’ final home game of 2020

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC midfielder Elizabeth Ball (7) goes for the ball along with OL Reign FC attacker Sofia Huerta, in soccer action between Utah Royals FC and Ol Reign FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020.

The 2020 season for Utah Royals FC is drawing to a close. They have just two games left in the National Women’s Soccer League Fall Series, the first of which is Saturday against the Portland Thorns at Rio Tinto Stadium.

In a normal season, every NWSL team would have 12 home games. The Royals will have just two at Rio Tinto in 2020 after hosting the Challenge Cup in Herriman over the summer. The last two rounds of that tournament were at Rio Tinto, but Utah was eliminated from the tournament before then.

After drawing 1,302 fans last week in a 2-2 draw to the OL Reign, the Royals are preparing to play their last home game of the season.

“We definitely need to soak that up because it’s the last time we’re going to play there this year,” Royals interim coach Amy LePleibet said Friday in a videoconference. “I think the players need to enjoy it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 NWSL season before it began, first causing the cancellation of preseason before games were postponed. Rather than restarting the season similar to Major League Soccer or other sports leagues, the NWSL opted to play a summer tournament and a series of friendlies in geographical regions.

The Houston Dash won the Challenge Cup. The team with the most points at the end of the Fall Series will be awarded the Verizon Community Shield and given to donate $25,000 to its community partner. The second place team receives $15,000, while the third place team gets $10,000.


At Rio Tinto Stadium

When • Saturday, 8 p.m.

The Fall Series marked a return to home markets for the NWSL after spending the summer tournament in a bubble environment. Most teams, however, have not been able to allow fans.

“Being at home, it’s fun,” LePleibet said. “We’ll have some fans out there. So I hope they soak up the energy of the fans because you only get to play at home so often.”

Players are looking forward to playing at Rio Tinto one last time in 2020.

“Really excited about this game,” rookie defender Kate Del Fava said. “Sad it’s the last one of 2020, but also ready for a new chapter next year.”

The Royals have had their own challenges this season. The club is going through an ownership change, allegations of sexist comments made specifically about their players, and a coaching shakeup.

The Royals will face the Thorns for the second time in the series. They lost the first game, 3-0. Saturday will mark the return of Becky Sauerbrunn to Rio Tinto after the team traded her to Portland in the offseason.

Utah lost its first game of the Fall Series and tied the next one. The team wants to continue improving even though there are no competitive implications for the series other than charity.

Forward Brittany Ratcliffe said the Royals can use this last home game toward that goal.

“I think for it being our last home game, I think it’s just good for us to take it for what it is,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s still a game, it’s still important, we still have to go out there and get three points, we still have to execute what we need to do.”

Ratcliffe also wishes the team had more home games this season. At the same time, however, she recognizes how fortunate players are to play soccer amid a global pandemic.

“I’m sad it’s our last game,” Ratcliffe said, “but very thankful that we can even play in our stadium in the first place.”