Utah Royals up to 14 players as they prepare for their 2024 return
“She’s a player that we have been excited about,” Royals head coach Amy Rodriguez said. “She comes from a place of a lot of humbleness and hard work.”
Those are two characteristics Rodriguez said they’re looking for in players to fill out their roster.
The addition of Merrick brings the team’s roster up to 14 players.
The Utah Royals were a part of the National Women’s Soccer League from 2018 to 2020, but the team folded in 2020 and moved to Kansas City. The first iteration of the Royals was owned by Dell Loy Hansen, who sold the team after allegations surfaced of repeated racist comments and that he contributed to a toxic work environment.
As the roster continues to grow and change ahead of the 2024 season, Rodriguez said she and sporting director Kelly Cousins are being intentional about who they choose. Since this is a new team, they’re creating its identity.
“It's talent, but it's also what players can offer off the field in our locker room, that I think is going to [raise] us to be a championship team,” she said.
Rodriguez said their newest addition, Merrick, is a versatile player. But Rodriguez added she has a great personality and thinks she’ll be someone they can lean on in the locker room.
During the NWSL expansion draft, in which new teams build up their numbers, the Royals only added two players and opted to pass most of its turns. The Royals chose forwards Elyse Bennett and Paige Monaghan, although it traded Bennett with San Diego Wave FC quickly after the draft.
A few Royals players are home-grown Utah talent. The first to join the team was former Brigham Young University star Mikayla Cluff, who grew up in Kaysville. Other additions include Michele Vasconcelos from Sandy and Cameron Tucker from Highland, who also both played for BYU. Goalkeeper Carly Nelson is a University of Utah alumna and grew up in Lindon.
Rodriguez has set her sights on a championship win in 2024, though she recognizes that’s a lofty goal for an expansion team in its first season. First, the team must come together and develop chemistry.
“We are building from the ground up and we’re doing things the right way, and it’s just going to take a little bit of time,” Rodriguez said.
Recently, there has been a flurry of trades and acquisitions, and the team will only keep growing. The full NWSL draft is on Jan. 12, and the Royals have the first overall pick. Training will start in late January. And the season kicks off in March.
Here’s where the Royals roster currently stands:
Goalkeepers: Mandy Haught (Gotham FC), Carly Nelson (Orlando Pride)
Defenders: Kaleigh Riehl (San Diego Wave), Madison Pogarch (San Diego Wave), Kate Del Fava (KC Current), Addisyn Merrick (KC Current)
Midfielders: Mikayla Cluff (Orlando Pride), Michele Vasconcelos (Portland Thorns), Emily Gray (North Carolina Courage), Frankie Tagliaferri (North Carolina Courage)
Forwards: Hannah Betfort (Portland Thorns), Imani Dorsey (Gotham FC), Paige Monaghan (Racing Louisville), Cameron Tucker (Houston Dash)