Utah Royals midseason check-in: 'Rollercoaster' first half of return season concludes with no shortage of changes


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SALT LAKE CITY — Keeping things in perspective is important for everybody, but especially for a first-year soccer club struggling to get its second win of the season through the first 13 games of a 26-game season.

A current six-game losing streak has tested the resolve and perspective of the Utah Royals at the halfway point of the season. Throw in losing two assistant coaches and several players to serious injuries early in the season and few could blame a bout of short-sighted frustration were it to arise in the locker room.

Starting right back Imani Dorsey tore her Achilles tendon in the second game of the Utah Royals' return to Sandy in March and the injury report has been filled with no fewer than four starting-caliber players for most of the season.

Assistant coach Vanessa Mann parted ways with the club just six games into the season. The other assistant, Frederic Brillant, accepted a head coaching job with USL Super League side D.C. Power just four games after that.

The club announced two new assistants on June 7, but their arrivals — along with some stability on the bench — have been further delayed by the visa process as both are coming from Belgium.

"It's been a bit of a roller coaster with the coaching staff," sporting director Kelly Cousins said. "We've had staff in, staff out, and that's probably been a big challenge, especially with the support around (head coach) Amy (Rodriguez)."

The roster, which was already made up of 24 completely new players and teammates to start the season, got three new additions just a month into the season in the form of three internationals from New Zealand, France and Spain.

When combined with a lengthy injury list, the roster turnover has resulted in a team struggling to find its preferred starting lineup and gain chemistry together.

Cousins said the "players are at the center" of everything the club is trying to do, and there have certainly been "growing pains" as the club has received player feedback and worked to put them in the best positions to succeed.

A major piece for the players is the opening of the Royals-specific training facility that began construction in October 2023.

Cousins said players will be able to use the brand-new facility starting June 24, while also adding that the team has addressed feedback concerning medical treatment and fueling by adding a third athletic trainer and providing snacks between meals.

"Everyone thinks that you're stepping in day one and everything will be just perfect and we don't need to change anything for the season," Cousins said. "This year was always going to be about learning: learning about each other, learning about the environment, like where do we need to push, improve, change?"

Looking ahead and moving forward is all Cousins is concerned about now, saying her goal is for the team not to finish the season at the bottom of the standings, where it currently sits.

She told the players coming into the season that the team-building process would be a "marathon, not a sprint," with plenty of time needed for Rodriguez to implement her style of play and the players to learn how to succeed together.

Rodriguez told the team it takes 70 training sessions to start feeling chemistry, and the Royals crossed the 80-session mark this week.

"We've added new players during those sessions and new coaching staff during that time, but you can feel from the group that we're starting to ramp up together as one," Rodriguez said. "This is the time that we need the results, when things start clicking, and you can start to slowly see that in training and I'm really pleased."

The team has four more games — beginning Sunday on the road against fellow expansion side Bay FC — before a break for the Olympics until Aug. 23. Three points separate the Royals from Seattle in second-to-last place in the NWSL standings.

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Caleb Turner covers Real Salt Lake as the team's beat writer for KSL.com, in addition to his role where he oversees the sports team's social media accounts.

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