There’s been big hype for NWSL’s newest team ever since they were announced. And on Saturday, the fans put their tickets where their mouth is.
The Utah Royals were very warmly welcomed home for the first time this past weekendA sell-out crowd of 19,203 filled Rio Tinto Stadium to cheer them on against the Chicago Red Stars. That’s less than 2,000 short of Real Salt Lake’s highest-ever attendance, not factoring in the seating lost due to a postgame concert, for an inaugural game in the National Women’s Soccer League.“When they say women’s soccer can’t fill stadiums…” is right.But for this fanbase, the turnout isn’t that surprising. In just a few short months, the Utah soccer community has rallied around a team that all but sprung up out of nowhere. 11,000 tickets were sold quickly after the home opener was announced a month ago, not to mention their high number of season ticket holders.To put that in even more context, with the exception of the Thorns’ 2017 average of 17,653, the next highest average last season was 6,186. The other eight teams averaged under 5,000 for a league average of 5,083.And the Royals’ 19,203 was not only the highest attendance of the weekend; it was the the 8th-highest NWSL attendance ever, behind only two different teams: record-holding Orlando Pride (23,403, at their inaugural home opener two seasons ago) and the Portland Thorns, whose famously large crowds have been the the 2nd through 6th largest (as well as 9th and 10th). Red Star Danielle Colaprico even compared the incredible crowd to Portland, saying that Providence Park is the “only other place we really experienced” that kind of atmosphere.Between Orlando’s record opener and now, it’s a great sign for the league that the newest teams have been drawing so highly. And in Utah, it’s not something that seems like it will be dying down anytime soon.“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get the win to kind of add to the wonderful day,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn said. “But to play in front of a crowd like that. …This is why we play soccer. It was wonderful.”And surely the Royals fans have been disappointed to not see a win, too — but for now, frankly, they seem pretty ecstatic to just be seeing a team at all.