SANDY — Real Salt Lake’s professional women’s soccer team has a name, a head coach, a start date and a home at 20,000-seat Rio Tinto Stadium.
The only thing Utah Royals FC has lacked since the whirlwind began was a player roster.
U.S. international and World Cup veteran Becky Sauerbrunn was announced Thursday morning as the first player in the first-year National Women’s Soccer League franchise’s history, becoming the inaugural player for RSL’s first foray into the professional women’s soccer ranks.
"I’m extremely excited," Sauerbrunn told KSL Sports. "I took a tour of the city, and it’s clear they (RSL) want to have a world-class organization. They are going to prioritize putting the best product on the field."
Sauerbrunn comes to Utah Royals FC as a league-allocated player following the folding of FC Kansas City. The St. Louis native played for FCKC since its inception in 2013, winning two NWSL Shields and appearing in back-to-back NWSL Championship games.
She’s the only player to appear every year on the league’s Best XI team since the league’s founding.
The move is understandably bittersweet for the 32-year-old center back. Sauerbrunn’s parents made the short four-hour drive from St. Louis to watch most of her home games in Kansas City, so a move west involves a bit more travel for the family of the Women's World Cup veteran and Olympic champion.
But Sauerbrunn also sees opportunity in the NWSL’s newest club.
"I had a wonderful experience in Kansas City. I won two championships there, played for an excellent coach in Vladko (Andonovski, now with the Seattle Reign)," she said. “I’ll be playing with a lot of the teammates I’ve played with."
"I had a great experience in KC, but experience is what you make of it. I hope to win a few championships with Utah as well."
A three-time NWSL defender of the year, Sauerbrunn will also be playing for new Royals coach Laura Harvey, who faced FC Kansas City twice en route to NWSL championships with Seattle. The veteran defender praised her new coach’s tactical management, but even more, called her a "great player-manager, which is just as important."
Then admiration is mutual.
"Becky is one of the best players the NWSL has seen over its five-year existence,” Harvey said. “To have her join us in Utah is really exciting, and to be able to build our club around a player like Becky is a huge development for this team. I’m really looking forward to working with her."
NWSL in Utah
The 5-foot-7 Sauerbrunn has played professionally since graduating from the University of Virginia in 2009, with stops at the Washington Freedom (Women’s Pro Soccer), Boston Renegades (W-League), Norway’s Roa IL, Florida-based magicJack (WPS) and D.C. United Women (W-League) in 2012.
But she’s never been affiliated with a Major League Soccer side — until now. RSL and the Royals will play the 2018 season at Rio Tinto Stadium, while the second-division Real Monarchs are set to move into a new stadium at the Real Salt Lake Academy training complex in Herriman.
"Right off the bat, you see that support. The facilities were world class," Sauerbrunn said of RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen’s backing. "Rio Tinto Stadium is amazing, and I got to take a tour of the practice facility. It’s fantastic; you can tell they are investing a lot in the development of soccer in Salt Lake. That’s fun to be part of an organization that is really pushing the game."