Here’s when Utah Royals — and their fans — expect to contend for championships

The Royals lost 2-0 to the Chicago Red Stars in their first game of the season.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals forward Ify Onumonu gets a header on goal over Chicago Red Stars defender Arin Wright (3) during their season opener at America First Field Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Sandy, Utah.

Sandy • The Utah Royals know they’re an expansion team. They know, as much as they’ll try to win every game in their inaugural season, true success will probably take time.

But don’t tell that to coach Amy Rodriguez.

“Someone told me when I took this job that I will never win as many championships as a coach as I did as a player, and that infuriated me,” Rodriguez said. “So I am taking that as an absolute challenge that if I can win two NWSL championships as a player, why can’t I win more than that as a coach? That’s what I’m set out to do.”

Rodriguez, a first-year coach, believes if her team does things the right way, and continues to gel and build on its foundation, there’s no reason the Royals can’t be like the 1998 Chicago Fire — the only team in any professional sport to win a championship in its inaugural season.

“Why not shoot for the stars?” Rodriguez said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals defender Kate Del Fava battles Chicago Red Stars forward Ally Cook (33) during their season opener at America First Field Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Sandy, Utah.

Utah lost 2-0 to the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd at America First Stadium. It lost 1-0 to the same club in its first-ever game back in 2018.

Goalkeeper Carly Nelson said the result, though negative, was a good start for the team.

“I think with a new team and a new atmosphere, I think those mistakes came from ourselves,” Nelson said. “I think those can be really good building blocks and learning lessons for us through the season.”

The loss was indicative of Sporting Director Kelly Cousins’ expectations of the brand new team.

“As much as we’re all competitors, we want to win, we want to win championships — you don’t do that overnight,” Cousins said. “We need to be able to walk before we can run.”

After all, Cousins said, the staff and players have been together for only six weeks. She said, in her mind, 2024 is a year to establish building blocks and continue growing the team’s already “strong” foundation.

“I would like to say in the next two to three years, I think we’ll be competing.”

(Alex Vejar | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals owners Ryan Smith, left, David Blitzer, center, and Lindsay Vonn speak at a pregame news conference on Saturday, March 16, 2024.

Many fans are also not expecting the Royals to run over the league in Year 1. Katey Orr, who lives in Denver and plans to travel for six of seven games this season, said she’s only looking for the team to improve throughout the season.

“I don’t have high expectations in terms of final standings — the reality of being an expansion team is challenging,” Orr said. “I think I’ll be happy as long as we don’t finish last.”

Aside from also saying he hopes the Royals don’t finish last, Mike Menssen said he’d like to see “good attendance” at home games.

Andrew Knight said he’s saving expectations for next season.

“Honestly I think just getting the team back is a win already,” Knight said. “Maybe next year I’ll have some expectations but this year I’m just hyped they are back.”

Co-owner David Blitzer said ownership wants to “set the tone” with the team in its first year, see the players gel and integrate well with the community. A title is not what he’s expecting just yet.

“Definitely not finishing last,” Blitzer said. “But I don’t think we need to be winning championships.”

Source link

Leave a Comment