2024 S-2 Briefing: Utah Royals

Now we’re entering the terra incognita portion of our look at prospective opponents; the first of the two expansion clubs joining the league in 2024.

The first “new” club, though, feels like a sort of reboot of the club now in Kansas City, a 2024 edition of the…

Utah Royals

The last time we saw this outfit – December 2020 – it was a sister club to the Utah MLS outfit, Real Salt Lake, and looked like this:

Year formed: 2023
Or maybe 2017. Depends on whether you think this is a resumption of the Royals club that technically fled to Kansas City in 2021, or a genuine expansion franchise. The league is treating it like the latter.

The story of this outfit really begins back in 2013, when someone named Dave Checketts sold his share of the MLS Real Salt Lake club to a joker named Dell Loy Hansen.

Hansen was an unremarkable businesscritter at the time. He’d made his pile scrounging up real estate foreclosed after savings and loan banksters had run their scams on them and had moved into bigger properties and bigger money.

He was also a remarkable scumbag, a Real American from southern Utah with all the racist, sexist, and other “-ist” baggage that is unfortunately endemic there (there’s a reason that the part of the state Hansen sprouted from is called “Utah’s Dixie”…).

He is also not the brightest cracker in the barrel. In the summer of 2020 he went into a radio interview and proceeded to slime his Real players for striking to support those uppity Black people. That brought more reports of his racist claptrap into the light to the point where even the other rich people who own soccer teams couldn’t let that slide.

The league sat on Hansen until he ducked out in December 2020. The Longs took the Royals to Kansas City, but the men’s side remained under administration until January 2022. At that time it was sold to…

Owner: David Blitzer and Ryan Smith.

These two are multi-team owners, Blitzer with the Philadelphia NBA and New Jersey NHL franchises, Smith with the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

Blitzer’s sports speed dial list is actually kind of insane; he’s got a piece of (takes deep breath): eight soccer clubs (Crystal Palace, G.D. Estoril Praia, AD Alcorcón, S.K. Beveren, ADO Den Haag, Real Salt Lake, Brøndby IF, and the Utah Royals), the MLB Cleveland Guardians, and the NFL Washington Commanders.

Both appear to have made their piles in the usual plutocrat ways; Blitzer through private equity, Smith in something called “experience management”, which is some sort of corporate buzzword for marketing.

The Flight of the Royals was deemed – and was – desperately unfair to the Utah fans, who’d been remarkably loyal to a club that had been mid-table meh for two seasons. The league, realizing this, promised that the poor suffering devils would get the next round of expansion.

Well, they didn’t, LA and San Diego did. But now they have, back through the Real Salt Lake combine.

The club webpage is still pretty much an empty shell. The Wikipedia page lists someone named Michelle Hyncik as president, and Kelly Cousins (former Reading FC manager) as “sporting director” which appears to combine the functions of general manager and director of operations.

Head Coach: Amy Rodriguez
The first senior managerial gig for the former US and Boston/Philadelphia/FCKC/Utah/North Carolina forward.

Anyone who’s followed the game – and especially the women’s game – knows ARod. If not, her Wiki page will give you a rundown.

ARod retired in 2022 and picked up an assistant job at her old school, University of Southern California. She would probably have continued to work her way up through the coaching pyramid, except (according to Wiki) “Rodriguez had played with Utah Royals FC president Michelle Hyncik in youth soccer and high school, and Hyncik credited their personal connection for the hiring decision.”

So yay for neoptism!

Rodriguez has no record to go by, and no paper trail to follow. She will be making it up as she goes along.

As with ARod, this will be the first look we have at any of this. So, no idea.
Season summary: TBD.

We’ll see as they do.

Outstanding players: Well…

Here’s the roster as far as I can make out.

Goalkeepers: Mandy Haught, Carly Nelson, Cristina Roque

Defenders: Kate Del Fava, Zoe Burns, Addisyn Merrick, Madison Pogarch, Katie Riehl, Diana Foederer. Imani Dorsey, Lauren Flynn, Olivia Smith-Griffiths

Midfielders: Frankie Tagliaferri, Mikayla Cluff, Emily Gray, Ally Sentnor, Emma Jaskaniec(?)

Forwards: Paige Monaghan, Michelle Vasconcelos, Iffy Onumonu, Cameron Tucker, Hannah Betfort. Brecken Mozingo

Utah had seven picks in the 2024 NCAA draft, none lower than the third round. With them they got:
Ally Sentnor (midfielder) – 1st round #1
Brecken Mozingo (forward/winger) – 1st round #4
Lauren Flynn (centerback) – 2nd round #16
Olivia Smith-Griffiths (right back) – 2nd round #20
Emma Jaskaniec (forward/midfielder) – 2nd round #26
Zoe Burns (left back/right back) – 3rd round #29, and
Cristina Roque (goalkeeper) – 3rd round #33

Henderson luuuurved Sentnor, Mozingo, and Flynn, liked the other three, trashed the keeper.

Not quite sure what to make of this. I don”t see any “outstanding” there, honestly. Haught was rock-solid for Gotham, but I don’t see any of the other veterans I’d consider more than a squad player or a touch better. Not awful, just kinda “lots of replacement level bodies”.

Lots of former Thorns, too.

So there seems to be a lot riding on the rookies which, as you know, I’m never confident forecasting.

How did they score?

Well, in 2023 here’s the tally for this group:

Forwards (goals): Monaghan (3), Vasconcelos (0), Onumonu (0), Tucker (0), Betfort (2), Mozingo (draftee)

Midfielders (goals): Tagliferri (0), Cluff (2), Gray (0), Sentnor (draftee), Jaskaniec (draftee)

Defenders (goals): Del Fava (0), Burns (0), Merrick (0), Pogarch (1), Riehl (0), Foederer (2 with Fortuna Sittard). Dorsey (0 in 2022)

Total: 10 goals (8 in the NWSL) So kind of the same thing here as above; there’s not a lot of goals in the veteran part of this group, so the rooks are gonna have to step up. That’s a pretty big ask.

How they’ll look next year?

Now I’m really spitballing:

I won’t kid you. This is pure speculation. I don’t have any idea if ARod will even go with the 4-3-3. We’ll have to adjust fire when the first rounds land in March.

Summing Up

Like all first-year expansion clubs, a black box.

That said…there’s little here that excites me. The veterans are all pretty average, the rookies are still in the larval stage, the head coach is a total noob. This outfit screams “lower-mid-table dross” to me.


No idea, except as noted; I don’t see any lightning in a bottle anywhere in this squad.

Will they be dangerous? I’m guessing not very. Might have a day or two, but I don’t see lots of goals and outside of Haught I don’t see a rock in back.

Can the Thorns beat them? We damn well better, If Mike Norris and our roster can beat this can of beans he should hand in his pass key.

Next up: The City by the Bay

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

4 thoughts on “2024 S-2 Briefing: Utah Royals

  1. I missed this one. Well have to agree this is a black box that doesn’t look too promising.
    ARod was a tough player and might wind up a good coach, but she has her work cut out for her. Hannah Betfort and Madison Pogarch might be her type of players and with playing time who knows they might do well. This lineup looks like one they could both get into. I think ARod will like the speed and aggression they bring to the field.

  2. If you’re relying on Hannah Betfort and Po..?

    There’s a line from the WW2 flick “Five Graves To Cairo” where the Axis officers are gathered around the planning table and Rommel is laying out his forces and says he’s got 100,000 German soldiers.

    One of the Italian officers pipes up “150,000 if you count in the Italians!”

    Rommel (and he’s played by that steely Prussian Erich von Stroheim) stares at this guy for a beat and sneers “I never count in…or ON…the Italians”.

    If you’re counting on Betfort and Po…

    ARod is as much a rook as the greenest squad player, and her squad is FULL of squad players. She’s a blank slate, so she could turn out to be the next Alex Ferguson…but, yeah. She’s got a big rock to roll with this crew.

  3. What team has the most former Thorns?
    I count four at Utah (did I miss anyone?): Madison Pogarch, Michelle Vasconcelos, Iffy Onumonu, and Hannah Betfort

    That pales in comparison to Gotham, who with 10 of them could practically field a whole team of ex-Thorns: Michelle Betos, Crystal Dunn, Sinead Farrelly, Allie Long, Midge Purce, Yazmeen Ryan, Mana Shim, Abby Smith, Emily Sonnett, McCall Zerboni

    Any other teams with a lot of former Thorns?

    P.S. It’s Ally *Sentnor*, which I bring up because you usually get these things right and so must care about it

    1. Just off the top of my head I think you’re right and Gotham is the Former Thorns Marching and Chowder Society. There’s random others around like here or Menges in the Bay or Si-money in the Magic Kingdom, but this is the single biggest slug I can think of.

      FWIW the league FA tracker shows Long and Shim both unsigned, and the Gotham roster page doesn’t include them. I’m guessing Long might find a home eventually, but I wonder if Shim’s 2023 wasn’t her swan song. Glad she got the redemption.

      And thanks for the “Sentnor” catch. Yes, I do care, and I fixed that.


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