By Adam Schwager
SoccerWire Staff Writer
The last three years have been a time of sweeping changes throughout the elite youth soccer landscape. For Utah Royals FC Arizona, this especially rings true, as the club’s recent announcement that they will be transitioning from Girls Academy to ECNL Girls next season marks their third league change in four seasons.
Additionally, their namesake NWSL club, Utah Royals FC, dissolved at the end of 2020, transitioning all their player-related assets to the expansion Kansas City NWSL team, albeit with the option for Utah Soccer LLC to bring back the club as early as 2023.
Despite all these changes, Utah Royals FC Arizona has had unquestionably one of their best seasons in club history. Of their six Girls Academy teams, five sit firmly at the top of the Southwest Conference, with the U-13, U-14, U-16 and U-17 teams all conceding less than a goal per game.
Their success has been noticed at the top-level of the U.S. Soccer ladder, as the club has had standouts Bella Leonard and Jae Pallas invited to the U-18 U.S. Women’s National Team virtual meeting, with Anna Castenfelt being invited to the U-17 virtual camp.
Utah Royals FC Arizona took on their club name when they joined the U.S. Development Academy in the 2018-19 season, relatively late in the now-defunct league’s history. When the league came to a halt at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the club had to find a new league to continue competition for the 2020-21 season.
“For me, as the director of our girls program we wanted to ensure we kept what is important to us—which is quality of training and our staff, our kids, and a league that continues to challenge our players,” Academy Director Tiffany Roberts said. “We thought, there are alot of clubs staying in the Girls Academy this year and there were so many shifts going on with other clubs jumping-some staying—the ECNL continuing to figure out how to navigate the changes with the Development Academy collapse; seeing how the changes played out seemed to be fair.”
Without much knowledge of which clubs were headed to Girls Academy versus which clubs were headed to play in the ECNL, Utah Royals decided to transition to Girls Academy, where they have found instant success.
This success has come in the Girls Academy’s Southwest Conference, which is very similar to the 2019-20 Development Academy Southwest Conference. Seven of the 13 other clubs from the DA joined GA along with the Utah Royals, with two discontinuing their girls programs and only three heading directly to the ECNL.
[+READ: Girls Academy Southwest Talent ID Event: 2004-2007 Rosters]
Playing in the Southwest Conference during the pandemic presented some unique issues for the club, despite Arizona being one of the least restrictive states in terms of youth sports. All but three members of their conference play in Southern California, where players were not even allowed to practice as a team for almost the entirety of 2020.