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Was firing Amy Rodriguez the right choice?

Utah Royals FC announced today the firing of Head Coach Amy Rodriguez.

Was firing Amy Rodriguez the right choice?
Photo Credit: Lucas Muller [Wasatch Soccer Sentinel]

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By now, the news cycle of Amy Rodriguez's firing is full of takes, opinions, questions, and most of all, surprise. Despite the Utah Royals being in last place in the NWSL with a 2-11-2 record, there is surprise on the announcement of Rodriguez's firing. Was it the right choice? The answer may vary. Could there be more to the firing behind the scenes that we are unaware of? Possibly. Was this firing based solely on performance and results? Maybe. Could the Royals have another coach already lined up, like let's say former San Diego Wave Head Coach Casey Stoney, who was also relieved of her duties, but she has a more impressive and successful resume? That could be, but it's just speculation on the timeline of events this week. The club has appointed assistant Jimmy Coenraets as the interim head coach. Coenraets was announced on June 7 as an assistant to Rodriguez.

So was firing Rodriguez the right choice?

If this is solely based on how the season has gone, then there could be solid argument for and against the decision. Perhaps the task of coaching in the NWSL was too big for ARod. Transitioning from a player to a head coach may have been more difficult than anticipated. But hiring Rodriguez for the return of the Royals was a dream scenario. Here we had a former Royals player now as the first head coach of the Return to Royalty Era. It was perfect and embraced by fans so familiar with Rodriguez's time in Utah as a player from 2018-2020.

But as the season progressed and Utah failed to win games, the hiring could have been questioned, yet fans and media rarely did. The conversations were often about the young roster Utah had put together, the youngest in the league. From the beginning, the investment in building a competitive roster was minimal. There were no major signings before the season began, and that was surprising considering how well the first iteration of the Utah Royals signed players like Kelley O'Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Christen Press. The focus instead was about going with a roster made up of young players and developing them with each year. The youth and experienced started to show from game one. We were often watching a team that was so new to the professional game that they fell short in implementing tactics.

Sure, as Utah began their winless streak a month into the season, the club realized that there needed to be changes. They signed Spanish defender Ana Tejada and New Zealand midfielder Macey Leigh Fraser, both young players for sure, but coming to Utah with more professional experience. The Royals also traded for French midfielder Amandine Henry with Angel City for $75,000 in allocation money to stablize the midfield. Henry brought experience and vision to the midfield, and Tejada became a leader in the backline. But two players was not enough, especially in such a highly-competitive league, and it just became increasingly difficult for Rodriguez to win with a young roster.

The Royals, however, were a reflection of Rodriguez's hard work. There were glimpses of potential when they defeated the North Carolina Courage 2-1 early in the season, and when they held a high-scoring Kansas City Current to one goal. And most recently, the 0-0 draw vs. Portland Thorns showed a team with a better organized defense and appeared more aggressive on the attack. This game could have been a turning point under Rodriguez. But there were also significant losses that highlighted the inexperience: a 5-1 loss in Louisville and just last week, a 6-0 loss at Orlando, one of the league's best teams. The Royals also have conceded 27 goals, scored 7, and have a goal differential of -20. For the season, the Royals' xG is 10.5 and a xGA of 33.4.

We'll never know how Utah would have finished 2024 under Rodriguez. It seems a bit unfair to not give a head coach a club built so much to finish the first season, but even more, that the club did not seriously invest in the roster, and expected that Rodriguez could bring the club success. Rodriguez was not set up to suceed, however. The best teams in the NWSL are made up of a roster full of veterans and young ones, and Utah simply just did not have that this season, and that was unfortunate for ARod.

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