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In first step toward return to ‘a sense of normalcy,’ Utah Royals FC begins voluntary individual workouts

In this April 20, 2019, file photo, Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) dribbles the ball against Washington Spirit forward Cheyna Williams (20) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
In this April 20, 2019, file photo, Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) dribbles the ball against Washington Spirit forward Cheyna Williams (20) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
Silas Walker

SALT LAKE CITY — Eight weeks ago as the reality of coronavirus really arrived in the Beehive State, Utah Royals FC captain Amy Rodriguez approached team management and asked if she could return to California to be with her husband and two young boys.

Permission was granted, and Rodriguez spent the next seven weeks in her native state, juggling the challenges of being a mother during a time when so many activities were restricted while trying to be a support to her teammates from afar.

Last Sunday, Rodriguez returned to Utah and on Friday, like some of her teammates, she participated in her first training session back at America First Field in Sandy.

The National Women’s Soccer League earlier this week announced that beginning Wednesday, players could return to outdoor training fields for individual voluntary workouts as long as strict safety measures similar to those put forth by Major League Soccer were in place and followed, and URFC by Friday was ready to make it happen.

Rodriguez noted coaches would not be at the sessions, which she said felt weird to her, but she was happy to get back nonetheless.

“I do have a smile on my face because I’m so excited to step back on the field and just kind of dip my toe in a little bit to a sense of normalcy and normal training, which I haven’t gotten to have in the last two months,” Rodriguez said during a Zoom meeting with reporters. “I’m really excited to start back up again, even if it is in such small capacity.”

While Rodriguez shared that there’s a general feeling of optimism with the big step taken Friday, she acknowledged that some players had reservations about going back.

“There are some that are much more conservative than others, but during this time, we really just have to respect other people’s wishes,” she said. “I just don’t think that we can compromise anyone’s safety in this matter.”

As captain, Rodriguez said she’s tried to be someone her teammates can look to for support during a time when so many of them have been away from their families (some others have also been out of market but are likely to return in the coming weeks), but as much as anything, she’s also hoped it has been a time for the team to grow closer together, even if they’re separated.

“As much as I can, I’ve tried to be that person that people can come to and take players under my wing if needed, but realistically, this is something that’s really big, and we all just have to band together right now and try to be positive,” she said.

While many, many questions remain concerning what a return to play might look like, Rodriguez said she’s eagerly looking forward to that day, whenever it may come.

“I really just want to put my Utah Royals jersey back on again and be able to wave to the fans in the stands,” she said. “I don’t see myself giving high-fives to all the little girls up and down the sideline, but I can’t wait to represent my team. I can’t wait to give the fans something to cheer about, bring joy to people or motivate people.

“I think that’s really what I’m missing right now. When I envision getting back together, those are the things that I see when I close my eyes. I really want the love of the sport to come back because I know we’re all missing it. I think that safety and health are the most important things during this time, and when the time is right, we’ll get back to it, and I will do my best to stay ready for that.”