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SANDY — A familiar face showed up to Utah Royals FC training Tuesday morning, albeit a bit unexpected.
U.S. international defender Becky Sauerbrunn arrived at America First Field for training, her first spell with the club since the FIFA-approved international break that gave Utah’s National Women’s Soccer League expansion outfit a one-week break from the regular season.
Sauerbrunn wasn't resting up, though. She came on as a second-half substitute Thursday in the United States' 4-1 win over Mexico, then returned to the starting lineup three days later as the Yanks routed their CONCACAF rivals 6-2.
“It was great to get back with the national team and awesome to come off the bench,” Sauerbrunn said. “I was really happy just to get some playing time. The second game surprised me (to start).
“Two wins against Mexico is always good. Overall, it was a good experience.”
Sauerbrunn’s start in the second game was important for U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who slotted the veteran center back next to 19-year-old newcomer Tierna Davidson for Sauerbrunn’s first start since suffering a foot injury prior to this spring’s She Believes Cup.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but getting to start was fantastic,” the Utah Royals team captain said.
Sauerbrunn was the first of a half-dozen internationals to return to Royals training ahead of the club’s inaugural home match Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. The game, which will be the NWSL’s Game of the Week on Lifetime, is scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT in front of a near-capacity crowd.
In addition to the U.S. international, Rachel Corsie donned the captain’s armband for Scotland in a 3-0 win over Poland, Royals goal-scorer Gunny Jonsdottir scored for Iceland in a 5-0 win over the Faroe Islands, and Katrina Gorry came off the bench Tuesday in Australia’s 8-0 shutout win over Vietnam in World Cup qualifying.
Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott have also been away with Canada during the international break.
“We have a lot of high-level players and I think that brings our level a lot higher than what most people would think,” Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith said. “It also helps our mentality on the practice pitch and one very game. We want to bring that high level to the fans and to ourselves.”
RSL in the Big Apple
Real Salt Lake kicks off against New York City FC at 5 p.m. MT Wednesday.
Yes, that's just four days after Saturday's 2-1 home win over Vancouver. And it's a challenge head coach Mike Petke knows well as he put his team on a flight Monday for training Tuesday in New York.
“We’re tired. We took a long flight, and we just played," Petke told RSL.com after training. "Those are challenges in itself. But this is the league, this is the life. No excuse; we got a little run in, a little playing, and talked about tomorrow. It’s on to the game.”
Tickets have already been sold to nearly 17,000 fans. A club spokesman told KSL that standing-room-only tickets are expected to go on sale later this week, and that “about 1,500 or 2,000 seats” of the 20,000-seat stadium will be closed to the public for a post-match concert with pop star Rachel Platten.
“I think everyone is really excited, giddy and anxious,” Utah midfielder Erika Tymrak said. “We’ve had a couple of days of practice and everyone is just having fun. The closer it gets, the more anxious we get. It’s definitely a good thing. We feel the hype of the city and we’re excited for that.”
Last time out
Through two games of their inaugural season, the Royals are tied for fifth in the league with a 0-0-2 record. They’re one of three clubs in the nine-team NWSL that are still unbeaten in two matches.
Much of that is their defense, having only allowed one goal — a penalty kick from Orlando’s Marta Vieira da Silva— in two matches thus far. Only North Carolina (2-0-0) has fared better, posting back-to-back shutouts against Portland and New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC to open the season.
“I think it’s a whole team effort,” Smith said of the team’s defensive effort. “Our back line to our forwards are putting in a phenomenal defensive effort, and a lot of work on and off the field. We watch a lot of video and learn the mentality that we want to have defensively.
“In Houston, those points were crucial. But at the same time, it was a team effort to get the shutout.”