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July 30, 2021

Utah Royals FC trade Kelley O'Hara to Washington as final USWNT player departs club

SANDY — The final member of the world champion U.S. Women’s National Team to play for Utah Royals FC has departed.

Kelley O’Hara, the U.S. fullback who had been with Utah since the club’s inaugural season, has been traded to the Washington Spirit, both clubs announced jointly Wednesday. The Royals received $75,000 in allocation money in the trade, as well as a conditional first-round pick in next year’s National Women’s Soccer League college draft based on the number of NWSL matches O’Hara plays for Washington during the 2021 season.

In three years in Utah, O’Hara played in 12 matches and notched one goal and one assist. The 32-year-old fullback did not play most recently for the Royals in 2020, opting out of the league’s fall series. Despite injury limitations, she played in two matches during the NWSL Challenge Cup over the summer, totaling 64 minutes of play.

“As I move on to the next chapter in my NWSL career, I want to thank the Utah Royals organization for providing a top class professional experience,” O’Hara said in a statement from the club. “To the fans, I know that my time on the field in Utah did not meet a lot of people’s expectations, including my own.

“Please know that I gave all I had to the Royals during my three years and to those that stuck by me and the team through the good and the bad, I am forever grateful. And lastly, to my teammates, I am so very thankful for each and every one of you. I will cherish the bonds we built on and off the field. I wish all of you the best!”

Traded to Utah from Sky Blue FC before the club’s inaugural season, O’Hara’s time with the Royals has been known as much for injuries and absences as her on-field play. The 5-foot-5 outside back was regularly pulled into USWNT camp over the past three years, and she struggled with several injuries — most notably to her ankle — when she was available to play.

Kelley O’Hara, a defender for the United States women’s national team, which is headed to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, is introduced for fans during a send-off ceremony following an international friendly soccer match against Mexico, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Harrison, N.J. The U.S. won 3-0. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

O’Hara is the third U.S. international to depart the club in the past year. Center back Becky Sauerbrunn was traded to the Portland Thorns, where she has owned a home with her partner for several years, in exchange for $150,000 in allocation money and young center back Elizabeth Ball. At least $100,000 of that allocation money was guaranteed.

After the Challenge Cup, fellow U.S. international Christen Press left the club to sign with Manchester United Women in the FA Women’s Super League. Press’ players’ rights in the NWSL were then selected by Racing Louisville in the NWSL expansion draft, sending $75,000 in allocation money back to Utah.

After three years and three U.S. internationals, the Royals received between $250,000 and $300,000 in allocation money. They also received Ball, the 25-year-old defender who started seven of nine matches during the truncated 2020 campaign, including all four fall series exhibitions.

O’Hara also departs the Royals as the club and its parent organization Utah Soccer Holdings is left in limbo regarding the future. Club owner Dell Loy Hansen has announced his intentions to sell the club, as well as sister club Real Salt Lake, lower division side Real Monarchs, and the soccer assets surrounding the three-tiered organization that includes Rio Tinto Stadium and the RSL Academy in Herriman. But so far, no buyer has emerged for any or all of such assets.

Major League Soccer will take over management of the club if Hansen does not announce a sale by January, as first reported by The Athletic. It’s unclear if the NWSL has called for a similar move with the Royals, who recently fired head coach Craig Harrington following a team and league investigation and have yet to hire a permanent replacement.

Assistant coach Amy LePeilbet has been leading the Royals in an interim capacity.


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Sean Walker

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