Former U.S. soccer standout Amy Rodriguez ready to lead ‘Royals 2.0′

Rodriguez was officially announced as the team’s new coach on Thursday.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC coach Amy Rodriguez is introduced in Sandy on Thursday, April 20, 2023.

Sandy • Amy Rodriguez was there when Utah Royals FC played its first game at the former Rio Tinto Stadium as a National Women’s Soccer League expansion team in 2018.

And she’ll be there again when the Royals return next year.

Rodriguez was announced as the team’s new coach on Thursday just one month after the announcement that the team is returning to Utah in 2024.

“Absolutely love being back here,” Rodriguez said from inside the recently renamed America First Field. “It feels a bit full circle to have been here as a player.”

As a player Rodriguez watched the Royals’ front office and head coach become embroiled in scandals. She was there when the team was sold and moved to Kansas City. And as the Royals were in the process of looking for a buyer, Rodriguez looked forward to the potential “revamp” a new owner could bring to the team.

It took more than a year for that change to happen.

But as Rodriguez gets set to embark on a new venture with her old team, she likes the direction new owners Ryan Smith and David Blitzer are taking the Royals.

“I am so excited to see Royals 2.0,” Rodriguez said. “I think this time we’re going to be better than ever. The new ownership group, even in my first phone call, talked about how much they wanted to develop women, develop myself as a coach. They’re so invested in empowering the players, the people in this league.

“I think getting behind that and realizing what they’re trying to do here just made me so excited and made my decision a little bit easier to come here and move my whole family and really jump aboard this.”

Rodriguez’s road to becoming the new Royals coach started with a random text message from team president Michelle Hyncik. The two played together in high school, so at first Rodriguez thought she reached out for a catch-up session between old friends.

But when Hyncik sent her a Zoom link instead of suggesting a phone call, that’s when Rodriguez felt like something was different. The hiring process progressed from there, and she initially experienced some imposter syndrome.

“I just remember being very shocked and honored, really, a little bit flabbergasted,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t think that I was necessarily the one to look to for this position.”

But Hyncik disagrees. She described Rodriguez as “the hardest worker” she’s ever met, “the most competitive player on the field” she’s ever witnessed, with an “insatiable competitiveness and commitment to winning and to excellence.” So in a way, Rodriguez’s lack of coaching experience never gave Hyncik or anyone else any pause.

“We didn’t see that as a hurdle,” Hyncik said. “We see it as an opportunity.”

Rodriguez becomes the first former American player in the NWSL to return as a coach, and the first NWSL champion to do so. She played on the U.S. Women’s National Team for more than a decade and appeared in 132 games while recording 30 goals. She’s also won a World Cup and multiple Olympic gold medals.

The last time Rodriguez was in Utah playing for the Royals, she was named captain of the team after the trade of Becky Sauerbrunn. That moment happened just days before the COVID-19 pandemic ended sports and created a mad scramble to salvage any semblance of a season.

After the team moved to Kansas City and became the Current, she played 10 games there before being traded to the North Carolina Courage. She then took a job as the assistant coach of the USC women’s soccer team. Rodriguez is a USC alumna.

The Royals were Rodriguez’s fifth stop as a professional. She joined the team after Dell Loy Hansen bought out the contracts of the players on the now-defunct FC Kansas City, where she won two NWSL championships.