Real Salt Lake doesn't just have a new USL Pro team; it has a women’s team, too. They compete in the WPSL Elite, one step below the top-flight National Women’s Soccer League — where you will see U.S. Women’s National team stars like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan. If we were to draw a direct comparison of the WPSL with the men’s side, it would be similar to USL Pro. The WPSL Elite is made up of 12 teams in two conferences, each playing likely 10 home games this season. The women sacrifice a lot to play soccer at the highest-possible level. Every month, @ShawnBlymiller (aka SoccerGeek) will sit down with one of these women to give you a chance to know them. This is first in that series of interviews, where I got to know team administrator Sara Cowley, a former player who gives us a better idea of the organization.
Sara played a total of 60 games with 4 goals and 8 assists. The team has gone through a number of name changes from Sparta United, SL United, and now Real Salt Lake Women
@ShawnBlymiller: What does the community need to know about RSL Women? Why should they watch Real Salt Lake Women and become a supporter?
Sara Cowley: The members of Real Salt Lake Women come from all walks of life: women who are all pursuing careers, going to school, raising kids, preparing for college, currently playing collegiate soccer and more. What they all share is a deep passion and love for the game of soccer, a determination to continue to learn and improve within the game as individuals and as a team. When we come together as a team our mantra is 'Dedication to each other.' Together, as coaches and players we are all dedicated to raising the bar and working hard to establish high-level women’s soccer here in Utah, and all over the nation. If you enjoy sports and watching elite athletes perform at the highest level who display tons of heart and passion, you will love watching the RSL Women.
@ShawnBlymiller: To the soccer snobs that love everything to do with soccer, those people that know the game well, what does RSL Women add that makes it important for them to be a supporter?
SC: Soccer is known as the beautiful game, and players of all ages, young or old, try to accomplish playing just that, playing the game as it was meant to be played — lots of control, passing, creativity, and finishing. The women bring to the table a very high level of fitness and athleticism. There is unity and high level of teamwork in the way the women play, that I feel is pretty special and unique in the world of soccer. I think we have converted a few fans over the years and we are hoping to convert a lot more.
@ShawnBlymiller: What is your role on the team on the field and off?
SC: Early on as a player, I would contribute in the midfield and defense, on the field. Off the field, I did the administrative duties — basically whatever had to be done so we could get out on the field and play each game, things like registration, finding sponsors, arranging travel, etc.
My role has evolved over the last eight years, largely due to the addition of two more kids: not as much playing and more managerial work. But I have really enjoyed seeing the game from a different perspective, the 'business' side of the game. However, I do still love to get out on the field and play whenever I get a chance.
@ShawnBlymiller: Get a few nutmegs in on the girls?
SC: Yeah (laughter), well, these guys are all pretty good now.
@ShawnBlymiller: So tell me a little more about the administrative roles. What does that look like? In order for the finances to make sense, what do you have to do?
SC: As an athlete growing up playing sports, I had no idea all that went into organizing and managing teams. It’s a lot of paperwork, communicating with ref coordinators, completing players' registration, securing fields to play on, and, of course, managing the finances. Players and coaches have worked hard over the years to help secure funding for the team — it costs quite a bit to travel all over the United States to play games. Budgeting is very important so we make sure all the costs and fees are covered, while keeping a little in the bank for the end of year trips to the playoffs and championship. It’s been a great experience, getting hands-on experience of all that goes on behind the scenes.
@ShawnBlymiller: What is a funny and interesting thing about one of the members of Real Salt Lake Women?
SC: Each member of the team has their own unique and interesting life story. I wish you could get to know all of them. There are players that have funny pre-game rituals — one, for example, has to have an unchewed piece of gum under her shin guard every game, which I find kind of funny. Also, we had a player audition for American Idol a few years ago; she sang the National Anthem at a few of our games. We have lots of amazingly talented women.
A very inspirational player we have is Lexe Selman. She battled for her life when doctors diagnosed her with leukemia as a senior in high school. She courageously beat it, and is now playing college soccer (at Arizona) and will be with the RSL Women in the summer. What amazing women we have on this team!
@ShawnBlymiller: Who is the funniest on the team?
SC: That’s a hard one; we have lots of fun when we are all together. Tasha Aiono, or “Tushy” is always having a good time — she choreographs music videos on our road trips. She’s always making us laugh.
@ShawnBlymiller: What is your favorite memory so far of your time with RSL Women?
SC: To name one is difficult. Other than the amazing friendships I have made with coaches and teammates over the years, the one that sticks out was the 2012 season. We won our conference and earned a spot in the regional tournament. We were up against two WPSL powerhouses, the San Diego SeaLions and the California Storm. We traveled to California and were huge underdogs. The team pulled together and played absolutely inspired. We ended up beating both teams and bringing home the trophy of Western Conference champs, earning a spot in the Final Four tournament in Florida. It was a blast and I will never forget how awesome it was to run off that field to get to the airport (for a flight we missed, by the way), and leaving all the fans and players stunned by what had just happened.
@ShawnBlymiller: Where do you see the RSL women and yourself in two years?
SC: In two years, we hope to be one of the new teams joining the National Women’s Soccer League. That is our goal, and has been since we started this team. We have had some amazing support recently and now that we are part of the RSL family, we know we can accomplish this goal. A lot of work is yet to be done to get there, but we are ready. And for me personally, I will probably still be doing what I do now — and that is whatever needs to be done to make sure we can get out on that field and play. And by “We” I mean any and all women who have a desire to play soccer on all levels. I would also love to continue learning the game as a coach; I have loved all my experiences coaching the past 10 years (at Jordan High School, Brighton High School and in the Olympic Development Program), and really helping youth players develop in the game and accomplish their goals in soccer. There are lots of exciting things to look forward to in the next 2 years.
I respect trailblazers like Sara that allow others to reap the benefits of her work. If people were not willing to do that work before us, the great game might not be as big as it is in our country right now. Thank you on behalf of the future women’s soccer stars coming out of Real Salt Lake Women.