SALT LAKE CITY — Without question, the player on the Utah Royals FC roster carrying the most mystery during the NWSL Challenge Cup is French midfielder Ami Diallo.
From France, Diallo signed with URFC on March 11, right before the coronavirus pandemic halted the sports world, and Diallo had to stay in her home country for more than three months.
The midfielder was put on URFC’s roster for the Challenge Cup, but didn’t arrive in Utah until June 27, the day the tournament started. Given that she then had to quarantine for a few days before even practicing with her new team, it was uncertain whether she would even play during the tournament.
On Tuesday, however, she was not on URFC’s injury report for its Wednesday game against the OL Reign, leaving the door open that she could play.
Asked Tuesday what could potentially be expected of Diallo during the tournament, URFC head coach Craig Harrington said, “I’m expecting nothing from her. Whatever we get, I think it’s going to be positive.”
Harrington did go on to say that, “She’s come in and been fantastic while she’s coming to a new environment, new league, new players, a new culture at Utah that’s very different from Paris, obviously. I think she’s really shown that she’s excited to be here. She’s all in. She’s engaged, and it’s been really seamless to be honest, from that situation.
“I’m really excited about her, but we just need to let her play. We need to let her get comfortable. We need to let her get NWSL experience. We need to see her in training, get comfortable, get her feet on the grass and just enjoy these players playing, and when she does get her chance, I’m sure that she’ll be really eager to impress everybody and make a statement of what she’s about.”
It was a decent-sized surprise, then, when Diallo came on at halftime Wednesday, having only started training on Sunday. In those 45 minutes, Diallo showed the ability to get forward, help distribute in the attack and be a big, physical presence in the midfield, the latter of which URFC doesn’t have outside of her.
While Diallo and most of her teammates are new to one another, she’s been teammates with one notable midfield mate in the past. From 2016-2018, she and Vero Boquete both played for French power Paris-Saint Germain, the club Diallo is on loan to URFC from.
“I’m really excited about her, but we just need to let her play. We need to let her get comfortable.” — URFC coach Craig Harrington on Ami Diallo
After Wednesday’s game, Boquete added some thoughts to what can be expected from Diallo in addition to what she displayed on the field.
“I think she can (play) really well here because she’s a physical player, but she understands the game and she wants to play,” Boquete said. “We could see today the first 45 minutes that she wants to combine, she wants to find those passes, and she just needs a little more time.”
Diallo is in the process of learning English, but she’s written a few short Instagram captions over the past few days. On her story Sunday, she wrote, “First training with the team. It’s very good intensity,” and then on Thursday, she posted some photos from Wednesday’s game and wrote, “Good to be back on the pitch. Next game Sunday.”