Royals players express gratitude to Utah fan base for support

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) celebrates her first half goal as Utah Royals FC hosts the Houston Dash at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday May 11, 2019. At left is Gunnhildur Jonsdottir.

Tziarra King remembers flying into Utah and spending the first night in her new apartment. It was an evening in February and she had been drafted by Utah Royals FC the just previous month with the eighth pick in the National Women’s Soccer League College Draft.

King’s room was so cold, she slept with four layers on until the heat kicked in at around 3 a.m. When she awoke in the morning, she looked out the window and was surprised to see the sprawling mountain landscape.

“When did those get there,” she recalled thinking.

King’s introduction to Utah is just one of the many fond memories she has playing for the Royals. She advocated for women and the LGBTQ community, and also became a vocal advocate for social causes such as Black Lives Matter.

But King and her teammates are on the move after the NWSL transferred ownership of the Royals to Chris and Angie Long, co-founder and chief investment officer of Palmer Square Capital Management. The sale will bring the Royals back to Kansas City, which lost its own NWSL team in 2017.

With the transfer of ownership, URFC’s player contracts, draft picks and all current and outstanding allocation money will go to the new team, which already named a head coach in Huw Williams, former general manager of the now defunct FC Kansas City.

King told The Salt Lake Tribune that she felt a series of emotions about leaving Utah, the most dominant of which is sadness, followed closely by confusion and uncertainty. But she also feels a healthy amount of excitement for what’s next. She said she feels a different emotion “every minute.”

“It’s hard because obviously you want to bask in that excitement and the idea of a new environment and new people and all that, of course,” King said. “But you can’t help but also think of what could’ve been and the sadness of leaving the fans and the area.”

Other Royals players took to their social media accounts to thank fans and lament the news that their team will move to Kansas City after the finalization of a sale that’s been in the works for several weeks.

“Getting to pay in front of our fans at the RioT is one of the greatest honors of my life,” former Royals captain Amy Rodriguez said in a statement. “Looking up into the stands filled with your smiling faces every week filled me with immense pride and being a part of the Salt Lake City community is a gift I can never repay. There are not enough words to express my gratitude for the support you have given us.”

Rodriguez is one several of the Royals players who came to Salt Lake City from the old team in Kansas City and stayed through the 2020 season. She said when she made the move to Utah, she was initially optimistic, but still apprehensive about what her new surrounds would bring.

But the support of the fan base, win or lose, made the experience special.

“As we enter this new chapter of our lives, we will carry with us the royalty you bestowed upon us,” Rodriguez said. “Utah will always be Royal.”

Other Royals players recorded video messages that were disseminated through the team’s social channels. Lo’eau LaBonta, another former FCKC player, expressed regret that the fans are losing the Royals. But her message to them was the players are entirely cognizant of how much the team meant to them.

“We felt the love,” LaBonta said. “You guys truly are part of this family now. I just want to say thank you so much and hopefully you guys can still hopefully continue to support us even though we’ll be in a different city. But know we love you guys and we miss you already.”

It wasn’t only Royals players saying goodbye to the team. A few former and current Real Salt Lake players chimed in as well with messages through the club’s social accounts.

Former defender Nedum Onuoha, who retired after the 2020 season, was one of them. He said he felt fortunate that he got to attend Royals games with his three daughters.

“Their years in Utah have touched the lives of so many and they will be leaving after having made a huge impact,” Onuoha said. “I feel proud to have been able to support them and incredibly privileged to have been able to get to know so many of them to the point where I can call them dear friends.”

Midfielder Nick Besler said the Royals players were just as impactful off the field, particularly with how they raised awareness of social issues in Utah.

“Utah is losing some amazing role models and I can only hope Kansas City embraces them as much as our Utah fan base did,” Besler said. “They’re incredible women and they will be missed.”

King said she hopes someone in the Utah community continues to have the conversations she and may of her Royals teammates helped start.

“Hopefully us being able to kind of bring attention to those things kind of let a light bulb go off in a lot of people’s heads that this is an issue,” King said. “It really stinks that we can’t continue that community piece that we really were starting to get rolling this year.”