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HERRIMAN — Uber-professional.
Those were the best words Utah Royals captain Becky Sauerbrunn had to describe the first day of preseason in the newest market in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The 32-year-old St. Louis native has played in several markets in a lot of women’s soccer leagues. But when she walked into the RSL Academy indoor facility in Herriman for the first day of training, she took immediate note of the professional quality to everything the expansion team was doing.
“The first thing that stands out is how professional everything is,” Sauerbrunn said. “We had breakfast ready for us, went to the gym, went to the lounge.
“It’s been uber-professional, which is something I appreciate.”
After breakfast, a jog and a full training session, the Royals are settling into the landscape of women’s soccer in a new market. A team primarily made up of teammates from the now-defunct FC Kansas City — plus additions like Icelandic international midfielder Gunnhildur “Gunny” Jonsdottir and former BYU center back Taylor Campbell Isom — found itself fitting in nicely in new surroundings, new colors and a new head coach in former Seattle Reign boss Laura Harvey.
The chemistry came quick, from the Kansas City core to the players coming in large measure from the semi-professional Real Salt Lake Women's group, and it came naturally for many of them.
Over the weekend, the team members gathered for a dinner, toured their new locker room, and remarked at the quality of brand-new facilities that were put together by team owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owns Real Salt Lake in Major League Soccer.
No nametags were passed around. But they could have been useful.
“I was nervous and anxious because I haven’t seen a lot of my Kansas City friends in a long time,” Sauerbrunn said. “But also, everything is new; new coach, new front office, new players. It’s like making friends on the first day of school.”
After dinner, the team spent time getting to know each other. A small fleet of a half-dozen cars was ready to help the players get around the Salt Lake Valley. Those who didn’t receive keys to an engine were given $100 gift cards from Maverik that refill monthly, to help with living and travel expenses.
If there was a checklist for “pro soccer clubs,” Utah seemed to have each item marked.
“We’ve said all along that all we want is to be treated professionals. That’s how Friday felt; we’re in an environment where we can compete to the best of our abilities,” Harvey said. “Dell Loy has gone above and beyond, and the locker room is just one example of the things that he is putting in place to make sure we have the best chance to be successful.”
Not even an outing to Top Golf could do much to diminish the players’ enthusiasm for the season. Some, like goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, thrived in the golf-game competition. Others, as Jonsdottir and Sauerbrunn admitted, fared less well.
“I have a big ego, and it’s very hard for me to be bad at things,” Jonsdottir said. “I guess I’ll go in my free time, alone, and practice for the next time we do Top Golf.”
It was about the only thing that went wrong all weekend for “Gunny.”
“I definitely feel at home here; the mountains here are great. The people and this club have been so welcoming, and it’s been an amazing transition,” Jonsdottir said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
On the mend
A few players had limited contact for the Royals on the opening day of preseason.
Sauerbrunn injured her foot in training camp with the women’s national team, but participated on a limited basis. The same for midfielder Maddy Laddish, who struggled with injuries last year in Kansas City and hasn’t played for nearly 18 months.
Barnhart had ankle surgery in the offseason, and performed in drills on the side of the training pitch.
Each player is expected back by the start of the regular season.
“We have a few players coming back from injuries, and it’s a long season,” Harvey said. “Managing them throughout preseason will be vital.”