Utah Royals and the NWSL Challenge Cup: Altitude Altitude Altitude
Head Coach: Craig Harrington
2019 Record: 34 Points - 10 wins, 4 draws, 10 losses - 6th place overall.
Player You Should Know: Amy Rodriguez. "A-Rod" is the newly named captain of the team and based on her performances last year, you can see how it could be quite the shift from last year. Amy brings a lot of fight and grit to the team and is willing to play anywhere to make it happen. From the captaincy, I would think this will have an effect on the whole ranks of the team.
Under the Radar: It's hard to say she's "under the radar" much, but I would go with Tziarra King. It's her first season with the club coming from North Carolina State University where she played as a midfielder. The roster released by the team lists her as a forward, so my guess is that when she does see playing time, it will be to bring on a very dangerous element. Especially in light of Christen Press's decision not to play, King should see a lot of time in that playmaker role bringing the ball to dangerous areas and being an outlet to change the attack.
Offseason Moves: Well, let's talk about the move that didn't happen. Sarah Bouhaddi and Dzsenifer Marozsan won't be joining the team after the pandemic shutdown. Outside of that, it was a lot of moving players on to other clubs and bringing in younger players through the draft.
What Makes Them Exciting: I think from the roster and the way the team could be setup they will be very much looking for the counter attack. I'm guessing they start in a 3-5-2 and absorb pressure to stretch teams out and then hit them on the break. There are a lot of fast players in positions up top that could make them incredibly dangerous.
Also, this is their turf. The altitude means nothing to them. For the group stage at the least, they should have the endurance to go a lot harder a lot longer into a match than any other team coming in.
Tuesday, June 30 at 12:30pm ET the Utah Royals play the Houston Dash on CBS ALL ACCESS.
Saturday, July 4 at 12:30pm ET the Utah Royals play the Sky Blue FC on CBS ALL ACCESS.
Wednesday, July 8 at 12:30pm ET the Utah Royals play the OL Reign on CBS ALL ACCESS.
Sunday, July 12 at 10:00pm ET the Utah Royals play the Chicago Red Stars on CBS ALL ACCESS.
The matchup to watch will be the OL Reign match on July 8th. Both teams will have a couple games under their belts and it will be a real test of how well the Utah Royals can absorb pressure and play on the counter. It will show both sides for how well they can actually play "their" game at mostly full strength.
Why They Could Win the Cup: The home field advantage will be HUGE. I'm starting to sound like a broken record on the altitude thing, but it's going to be a big deal. Especially for those mid-morning games when the sun starts to come up. Equally important though is the fact that they've been training on these pitches. So if you believe there will be a ramp up time for players to get used to the turf, it will be close to zero for the Royals.
Biggest Challenge: New coach, new system, new defensive strategy. The back line and defensive midfield is full of seasoned vets, but they'll be tested in different ways than through previous seasons.
Predicted Finish: Third.
The deck is pretty stacked in their favor. If they can shake off the dust quick there's no reason they don't hang on until close to the end.
Something Random: I went this whole article without talking about a certain defender who left the team that shall continue to remain nameless.