SANDY — Utah Royals FC will be embarking on just its third season in existence this year, but the club will already be entering a new era from a few different perspectives.

The Royals announced on Friday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium the hiring of Englishman Craig Harrington as the second head coach in club history after Laura Harvey was announced on Jan. 6 as the head coach of the United States U-20 women’s team.

“A lot of the hire, when we looked at bringing a head coach, this head coach had to have supreme skills at leadership and development” — URFC owner Dell Loy Hansen

The Equalizer’s John Halloran first reported the hiring of Harrington on Friday morning.

Not only will URFC be under new leadership with the 38-year-old Harrington, but the club is moving toward a more expansive development phase. Harvey inherited an experienced FC Kansas City roster when the franchise relocated to Utah, and the development of younger players has been minimal.

The club signaled the beginnings of a youth movement when it acquired its first-ever first round pick in last month’s NWSL draft (it took NC State forward Tziarra King with the eighth overall selection), and the plan is for Harrington to invest much more time in player development, with he and general manager Stephanie Lee both hinting Friday at the creation of an academy-style development program like Real Salt Lake has.

“A lot of the hire, when we looked at bringing a head coach, this head coach had to have supreme skills at leadership and development,” URFC owner Dell Loy Hansen said at Friday’s announcement.

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Harrington is on board with that task of focusing more on player development and has a history of doing so. He’s spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Chicago Red Stars, and before that served as technical director and head coach of the Turks and Caicos men’s national team. 

His first coaching job came in 2010 at the LA Galaxy Academy, where he had success helping numerous players eventually reach Major League Soccer.

Not only will Harrington have a focus on developing players more, but he’ll also be charged with leading a URFC squad that has narrowly missed the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs in each of its first two seasons.

“I call this place a superclub with what we’ve got infrastructure-wise, players, the staff,” he said. “We’re excited to work with them and for the future of this club and the potential that we have. The players that we have, the roster that we have, the internationals, the dynamic of the squad was a very, very attractive prospect. Obviously they’ve missed out on the playoffs by a hair recently. It’s something I think we can overcome and accomplish and go beyond that.”

Regardless of the sport, new coaches will often declare that they want to be more dynamic offensively, and Harrington observed that he tends to be more offensive-minded. Such could prove to be a stark departure from Harvey, who was very defensive-minded. As a result, URFC in its first two seasons has been very good defensively but often struggled to score.

“We can’t give up three and score four every game. I understand that,” Harrington said, “but I think there’s a way that we can play where we can still be rock solid, make it difficult for teams to score on us, but create more opportunities to score goals and use the strengths of our team.

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“I think this is an attacking-minded, very technically proficient group. We want to dominate with the ball, but I want people to come here excited. The game’s about glory, it’s about lifting trophies, it’s about scoring goals. That’s heavy on my mind.”

As far as Harrington’s coaching staff is concerned, announcements are forthcoming. Scott Parkinson, who was interim head coach after Harvey departed, has left the club, while Amy LePeilbet and Jason Batty remain.

Harrington will be leaving a Chicago team that was led by one of the most respected coaches in the NWSL, Rory Dames.

He said he could go on a long time describing what he learned from Dames, but, “I learned what it takes to get it done, to get to the playoffs and beyond, and that’s ultimately what we want to do.”

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