Tobin Heath is opening up about the 2020 NWSL expansion draft and the heartbreak that came with it.

At the time, Heath was playing with Manchester United in the Women’s Super League, with the Portland Thorns retaining her NWSL rights. Heath, who had been with the club since their inaugural season in 2013, was selected by Racing Louisville in the expansion draft after going unprotected by Portland.

In the latest episode of “The RE-CAP Show,” Heath called her selection by Louisville “the biggest heartbreak of my life.”

“For me, playing in Portland was one of the greatest honors of my life. It gave me a childhood dream,” she said. “It was a big surprise to me to learn I was picked up in the expansion process. And I will say, I envisioned myself playing in Portland for the rest of my career.

“I envisioned myself living in Portland for the rest of my life and putting all of my football and everything that community gave me back into the club.”

While she was playing with Manchester United during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was told “by all parties” in the NWSL that she didn’t have to worry about the expansion draft. But she knew as soon as she got the phone call that she had been picked up.

“Immediately, I was kind of in denial,” she said, noting that she told her agent to tell Racing Louisville that “there’s no way I will ever show up.” She held true to that, continuing to play overseas before her rights were eventually traded to OL Reign. She played five games for the Seattle-based club in 2022 before being sidelined by injury.

“In one way, it had nothing to do with that particular club, but it had everything to do with the club I was currently on,” she said. “I have never cried harder in my life. I couldn’t console myself.”

Both Heath and co-host Christen Press also talked more generally about the expansion draft and the effect that it can have on players.

“Sometimes players are really excited about it. Sometimes players want to move,” Heath said. “So then there’s the very opposite of that, where maybe there’s a player that has signed a long-term contract with a club, has invested time there, has put down roots there, and they are left unprotected and therefore could be picked up.

“And I think there’s a little bit of chicken and egg that happens, where clubs play some games seeing which players they can leave unprotected and still have the feeling that they won’t get picked.”

Press talked about the issue with the NWSL basing its structure, including the expansion draft, off American sports leagues such as the NBA and NHL, rather than mirroring the European soccer system.

“My issue with our league being based off those leagues is multifaceted, but one big problem, I think, when it comes to reallocating or the way that players are moved around and traded around, it doesn’t work for this league because the players aren’t getting paid enough,” she said. “All of the moving pieces, which in this case are human beings, really matter.”

The Utah Royals have their first player, acquiring Mikayla Cluff via trade from the Orlando Pride.

The 24-year-old midfielder is a native of Kaysville, Utah, and played for BYU in college, scoring 53 goals through 93 appearances and finishing as a finalist for the Hermann Trophy in 2021. She already is in her home state preparing for the 2024 NWSL season, which will mark the Royals’ return to the league as an expansion team.

“While I’ve enjoyed my time in Orlando over the last two seasons, I’m extremely excited to return to play in my hometown and bring back this club for the state and for the fans,” Cluff said in a news release.

In the trade, the Royals received Cluff, who is under contract through the 2025 season, as well as the No. 26 pick in the 2024 college draft. The Pride received expansion draft protection and $90,000 in allocation money.

Bay FC and the Utah Royals will have the opportunity to select up to 12 players through the 12-round expansion draft, but the Pride already have acquired protection from both expansion teams.

The original Royals franchise played in the NWSL from 2018 through 2020. At the end of the 2020 season, the team folded, and their players were transferred to the Kansas City Current. Real Salt Lake owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith are reestablishing the franchise.

Cluff played for the Utah Royals FC Reserves in 2019, making 12 appearances and scoring eight goals in the amateur team’s inaugural WPSL season. In her time with the Pride, Cluff had four goals through 40 appearances.

“We’re so excited to welcome Mikayla back to Utah,” Royals head coach Amy Rodriguez said in a news release. “A player who has had so much success in the state at both the collegiate and high school level and has now shown to be an excellent NWSL player. She offers versatility in the midfield, which is so valuable in an expansion year.

“When evaluating players, we also put a big emphasis on their character and Mikayla is a great first step in building the culture we want in our locker room. We know how much she is loved in this state, and we can’t wait for our fans to cheer her on in Utah again.”

The Utah Royals will return to the NWSL as an expansion team in 2024, and they’ll do so with a top-of-the-line training facility.

The Royals have unveiled plans for a multi-million dollar upgrade to their training facility, which is scheduled to be completed in time for the upcoming season. They will be expanding and remodeling the Zions Bank Real Academy, expanding the training site to 12,260 square feet.

“The new and expanded training site emanates from the already existing Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman, Utah, a 42-acre campus which includes five natural-grass outdoor fields, two full-size indoor fields, as well as the 5,000-seat capacity Zions Bank Stadium,” the team said in an announcement.

Head coach Amy Rodriguez noted that the “player’s holistic view was very carefully looked at and thought about every detail within this facility.” Among the additions will be spaces for childcare and for nursing mothers. There will also be a new locker room, new training equipment and a dedicated hydrotherapy room.

The training center first opened in 2018, and it has served as the training site for multiple clubs and leagues. The Royals will join MLS club Real Salt Lake at Zions Bank Real Academy, but they will have their own NWSL-specific space, unlike the previous iteration of the team.

“We never had a dedicated, I would even argue, an equal space,” said Rodriguez, who served as captain of the Royals during her NWSL career.

While Rodriguez appreciated her time with the previous version of the Utah club, which folded in 2020, she is thrilled to see the red-carpet treatment for the new Royals.

“I experienced the Royals in its first iteration, and I thought it was great originally, but this blows things out of the water,” Rodriguez said during a news conference Thursday. “I just feel so fortunate to be a part of this time where we are pushing boundaries. It’s setting standards for women in sport and women’s soccer in America.”

The Utah Royals have their head coach.

The resurrected club, which will return to the NWSL as an expansion franchise in 2024, named Amy Rodriguez as head coach as the Royals embark on a new era.

Rodriguez is a two-time NWSL champion and former U.S. women’s national team star forward who won a World Cup and Olympic gold medal at the international level. She is also a former captain of the Royals.

“Returning to Utah is a dream I never knew I had and it is with the utmost humility that I step into this role as your Club’s head coach,” Rodriguez said. “My time with the Royals is among the greatest years of my professional career. The Utah community fully embraced my family and made this state feel like home for not just myself, but my husband and kids as well.

“We were devastated to leave and I left feeling like there was still unfinished business on the table. I cannot put into words just how excited I am to get to work and bring Royalty back to this community.”

The news was first reported Wednesday by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle. In a phone interview, Rodriguez told Carlisle she had “butterflies” in her stomach the moment she heard the Royals organization on the phone.

It will be Rodriguez’s first jaunt as a head coach, and first as a coach to professional players. She has spent the last year as an assistant coach for the USC Trojans, her alma mater.

“Anytime you step into a role that is above you, there’s definitely way more responsibility that comes with it,” she told ESPN. “There’s an excitement [and] a potential to make something my own, and that gets me fired up.

“But I take it with a great amount of responsibility that I’m going to now step into, and I’m going to give it my very best. I think as a player, I always leaned on hard work, and I think similarly in this coaching role, I’ll do the exact same.”

The return of the Utah Royals to the NWSL will bring the league to another state where abortion is functionally illegal after the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

Since the NWSL announced the Royals as an expansion team for the 2024 season earlier this month, commissioner Jessica Berman has addressed the league’s healthcare policies as they relate to such states with restrictive reproductive rights laws.

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wad in June 2022, Berman had said that reproductive rights would be part of the discussion as the league considered expansion locations.

“It’s one of the things that we’re actually currently analyzing, which is looking even at our current markets to see where we have some differentiation between our values and what we stand behind relative to where we have teams located currently, and what are the solutions we can put in place that we feel comfortable we can commit to and execute on,” Berman told the media in July 2022.

The incoming Utah Royals owners had a contractual buy-in option after the previous iteration of the team ceased to exist in 2021, which will bring the franchise back to the NWSL at a predetermined fee of $3.5 million. And in addition to the Royals, the NWSL also has clubs in Texas and Florida, two of the most restrictive states in terms of access to legal abortions.

The solution appears to be financial support for NWSL players who might have to travel out of state for procedures rendered illegal in their home markets.

The Utah Royals have been steadfast in that support at the team level as well. Royals officials already have “promised the club will financially support players and staffers who may opt for the medical procedure,” they told the Salt Lake Tribune upon the announcement of the club’s return.

Royals President Michelle Hyncik also told the Tribune that the club will “provide reimbursements toward costs and to ensure that players and women throughout staff and organizations get the care that they need.”

Royals co-owner Ryan Smith also voiced his support and said it was “important across all of our organizations that that medical benefit was available.”

The state of Utah has a trigger law to ban abortions that went into effect after the overturning of Roe vs Wade, but that particular law has been tied up in litigation. State legislature, however, also has passed a law that will greatly restrict or possibly ban abortion in the state, and Gov. Spencer Cox has indicated he will sign it.

As part of the team’s expansion announcement, Berman said that the league “assesses reproductive rights not only for potential expansion teams, but also for teams already in the league.” She referred to the league’s “safety nets and systems in place through the league office where players can have their medical needs addressed, even if they have to leave the market, and we are here to support them to the extent that’s necessary.”

She further expressed faith in Utah ownership to align with the league’s values.

“We know the ownership group here (in Utah) is aligned to ensure that that’s the case,” Berman said.

The commissioner further clarified policy at the league level and the team level in a call with reporters on Monday.

“What we intended to share with the Utah announcement is that of course the players are our employees, and for our policy for the players to the extent they can have their medical needs addressed in their local market to the extent it’s permissible by law,” Berman said. “Our policy allows for insurance to cover them traveling, and being able to have their medical needs addressed.”

NWSL players are technically league employees, which allows the league office to create healthcare plans that can span the entire country. The Utah franchise also has a policy in place to afford similar benefits to the rest of their front office employees, Berman said.

The Utah Royals are returning to the NWSL in 2024, with the league set to make the official announcement Saturday, Sportico reported.

The Royals will bring with them several new investors, among them Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey, Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessia Gelman and Netflix vice president Amy Reinhard. They are part of a five-investor group that has bought a stake in the parent organization for the Royals and for MLS club Real Salt Lake.

Two teams are set to join the league for the 2024 season, as previously reported: The reincarnation of the Utah franchise and a new franchise in the San Francisco Bay Area. The NWSL also will add a Boston franchise at a later date.

Real Salt Lake owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith spearheaded the effort to revive the Royals, which folded in 2020. Blitzer will serve as the principal owner, while Gelman will serve as the Royals’ alternate governor.

“This is the right opportunity, with the right overarching ownership group, which has the same vision as us: to empower women, affect change and to do it right,” Gelman told Sportico. “Alignment of values is so important.”

The group plans to partner with the local YWCA, as well as to support STEM education opportunities for young women in the community.

“I think we are the best women’s soccer league in the world, and attention to those details matters,” Gelman said. “And the investments that we’re making into the Utah community are going to be very significant and powerful.

The formal announcement of the team’s return is expected Saturday, ahead of Real Salt Lake’s MLS hope opener. Real Salt Lake general counsel Michelle Hyncik is set to serve as the Royals’ team president, and she already has seen excitement brewing in the fan base.

When Blitzer and Smith held an introductory press conference with season ticket holders for the MLS club, questions about the revival of the Royals were prevalent.

“The chat was running on the side of the screen, so you could read what fans were writing in real time,” Hyncik said of the discussion. “David and Ryan were both floored. It was a milestone moment for our ownership group to be able to visually and viscerally see how important it was to our community.”

The NWSL will make the long-anticipated return of the Utah Royals official with an announcement in March, The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported Monday.

Two teams are set to join the league for the 2024 season, as the Wall Street Journal reported in January: The reincarnation of the Utah franchise, which folded in 2020, and a new franchise in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The NWSL started with eight teams in 2013 and reached 12 teams in 2022. With these new additions, league leaders aim to keep that momentum rolling. Here’s what you need to know.

What are the NWSL’s expansion plans?

The NWSL plans to add two teams for the 2024 season, commissioner Jessica Berman has confirmed.

And expansion won’t end there. The NWSL also will add a Boston franchise at a later date, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. If the league wants to keep growing beyond Boston, it likely would have options, as “over 30 investment groups” expressed interest in expansion franchises as of June 2022, Berman told ESPN.

Where will the teams be located?

Utah entered the expansion bid process as a shoo-in to land a team, which the latest reports have only confirmed. The Salt Lake City area was home to the NWSL’s Royals from 2018 to 2020, when the club folded. But the league left in place a legal option that would allow incoming owners of MLS club Real Salt Lake to create a new NWSL club in Utah, per ESPN — and new owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith are on board.

Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird agreed to a fixed reactivation fee, reported to be between $2 million and $5 million. So the Utah franchise would come in at a much lower price than the San Francisco and Boston expansion franchises, which are set to pay around $50 million each.

The Bay Area bid includes former U.S. women’s national team stars Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton as backers. And while San Francisco has not previously had an NWSL team, the league’s first forays into California have proved wildly successful.

The 2022 season featured two new teams, both in California: Angel City FC, which averaged more than 19,000 fans per game in its inaugural season, and San Diego Wave FC, which reached the playoff semifinals (and set the postseason attendance record to boot).

Boston, like Utah, will be making its return to the NWSL fold. One of the NWSL’s original teams, the Boston Breakers, called the city home for five years before folding in 2018.

When will the league announce its choices?

Even as reports swirl, the NWSL has not set a date to announce its expansion franchises. But with the Royals’ announcement expected in mid-March — perhaps around Real Salt Lake’s home opener on March 11? — the San Francisco announcement likely would not be far behind.

Accusations of sexual misconduct have been leveled at former Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington in the NWSL and NWSLPA report, published on Wednesday and detailing “widespread misconduct” across the league.

Harrington was one of several coaches and team executives cited in the report. He coached the Royals for one season before being put on administrative leave on Sept. 20, 2020. A report in the Salt Lake Tribune at the time cited player complaints of Harrington’s “verbally abusive” behavior as reason for him being placed on leave. He was officially let go on Nov. 9, 2020.

Many of the complaints against Harrington in the report start with the excessive use of alcohol. Harrington, the report says, often got drunk with players, and would sometimes even force them to go to bars with him.

There was one incident in which Harrington, who had already been drinking, came to the hotel room of two players in an attempt to get them to go out to bars with him. He attempted to enter their room, and the players were forced to “shove him out,” the report says.

Interviewed for the NWSL and NWSLPA report, Harrington told investigators that the incident happened differently. He said a player asked him to help get another player to their room because she was intoxicated.

Investigators asked if Harrington could provide proof of the interaction, such as phone records or text messages, but he declined, stating that “the player may have contacted him via WhatsApp or may have just flagged [him] down in the hotel lobby.” He also said he never entered a player’s room.

Two players recalled another instance at a bar in which an intoxicated Harrington made sexual advances toward them and said, “I need to have sex with someone tonight who’s not my wife.”

He also made comments on more than one occasion about players’ looks and bodies, the report says. The former coach denied such allegations, stating that he “never made comments about players’ physical attractiveness and never sexualized players.” The NWSL and NWSLPA joint investigative team, however, “did not find his denials to be credible when viewed against the accounts of multiple other witnesses,” according to the report.

Prior to taking the job in Utah, Harrington was an assistant coach with the Red Stars from 2018-19. During his tenure with the Chicago club, one player recalled Harrington going to a strip club with players following a season-ending loss.

In response to the accusation, Harrington said he and other coaches went to the strip club thinking it was a “regular bar,” and once they realized it was a strip club, they finished their drinks and “got out of there.”

After his exit from the Royals, Harrington went on to coach Club América, a Mexico-based team, for two seasons. He was fired following the club’s elimination in the quarterfinals in May 2022.

David Blitzer, in partnership with Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, was announced Tuesday to have reached a deal to purchase MLS club Real Salt Lake. On Wednesday, Blitzer revealed the ownership group’s plans to bring back the Utah Royals.

The Royals were sold in 2020 and moved to Kansas City, but not without the option for the new RSL owner to start a new NWSL club under the Royals name in 2023.

“I think the best way to say is that’s from our perspective, that’s a function of when, not if,” Blitzer said during an introductory press conference Thursday. “We’re at day one, but this has been an important item that Ryan and I have talked about a lot, and we’re very excited to bring an NWSL team back to this marketplace. They did incredibly well here. The fanbase loves it. The market is growing.”

Blitzer said that he and Smith are “huge believers” in women’s soccer and the NWSL.

Prior to the sale, the Royals finished 18-14-17 through three seasons in Utah. While the club never made the NWSL playoffs, they were one of the most successful teams off the field in the NWSL. Utah was one of just two teams to average more than 10,000 fans per game, including selling out its home opener in 2018 and playing in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 19,023 fans.

The NWSL will welcome two new teams for the 2022 season, with San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC set to make their debuts.