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Third professional soccer team to make its debut in Sandy

Mar 07, 2018 03:01PM ● Published by Ron Bevan

The Utah Royals are slated to begin their season in April.

Rio Tinto is soon to become the home for another professional soccer team. The Utah Royals will be the latest addition to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

The Royals were announced in November 2017 as the latest of 10 teams in the NWSL, taking the place of Kansas City FC, who folded at the end of the 2017 season.

“As we learned about the NWSL vision and their aspirations on and off the field, we knew we not only wanted to join and participate, but we believe our development initiatives align perfectly,” Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen said. “Our community is already passionate about women’s sports and we believe that empowering and advancing the women’s game accelerates the change to build a better Utah.”

The NWSL began play in 2013, taking over from a previous women’s professional league. The Royals will play 24 regular season games in its inaugural season, 12 on the road and 12 at Rio Tinto. Play begins in April and runs through September. Teams that qualify will then begin a playoff format to crown a champion.

Once the team was formed, positions had to be filled and a coaching staff named. Since a lot of the Kansas City players were now available, several of them came to Utah. Others were picked through a selection draft and others signed as free agents.

The most notable player perhaps is Amy Rodriguez, a 5’4” forward picked up from the Kansas City squad. Rodriguez is considered among the best players in the United States and represents the U.S. on the national team.

Rodriguez missed most of the 2017 after a knee injury, but has been working on gaining her strength back to be ready to represent Utah.

Selected to coach the Royals is veteran NWSL head coach Laura Harvey, who previously coached the Seattle Reign and also spent time as a manager in Europe.

While the emphasis for most will be to see the home team play, there is no doubt fans will be interested in some of the opponents who will travel to Rio Tinto to take on the Royals. Former Miss Utah Soccer and Alta High standout Kealia Ohai plays for the Houston Dash. Ohai led Alta to four consecutive state 5A girls soccer titles. She has also appeared on the U.S. women’s national team, where she set a record for scoring the fastest goal in a debut for the team. In a match with Switzerland Oct. 23, 2016, Ohai entered the game as her first appearance for the U.S. and 48 seconds later she rippled the net.

The Royals home opener is slated for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 14 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

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