The Utah Royals have a new face in the dugout for this summer’s NWSL Challenge Cup with Craig Harrington leading them.
The London-born coach has had a unique route into the sport and is now keen to embrace the challenge of managing in the American top-flight.
Harrington started out as a player with both Oxford United and Swindon Town but failed to make the grade as a professional.
And it wasn’t until he started coaching in the local community that he regained his passion for the sport once more.
Harrington would eventually move Stateside and take up coaching with Newport Mesa Soccer Club prior to joining the LA Galaxy Academy as a junior coach.
During his time on the west coast Harrington helped to mastermind winning the USSDA SoCal Division Championship in 2012.
Further still, a dozen of his players had also earned themselves recognition by the US national team at numerous age groups.
Harrington had proved he could nurture and develop promising talent, despite not having played professionally himself – something Arsenal legend Arsene Wenger will long be remembered for.
A chance to make a name in obscurity
Having demonstrated his aptitude for youth coaching and implementing a footballing philosophy throughout the LA Galaxy Academy, Harrington was poached by the Turks and Caicos Football Association to take on a very different challenge.
Soccer was by no means the most popular sport on these islands, so it was the remit of Harrington to try and introduce it into the psyche and culture of the locals.
Harrington admitted in a recent interview that to connect with the part-time players within the Turks and Caicos national team he needed to “connect with them as people first”, rather than viewing them exclusively as soccer players.
Harrington certainly left the national team in better shape than he found it and within a year of being in charge, the island nation defeated the British Virgin Islands to push them from 207th to 181st in the FIFA world rankings.
After three years at the helm, Harrington was eventually enticed back to the NWSL to team up with the Chicago Red Stars as assistant coach.
Making waves in the NWSL
Working alongside Rory Dames, Harrington was part of two of the Red Stars’ most successful ever seasons and securing their place in the NWSL Championship in 2018/19.
Now Harrington has a chance to be the main man and stamp his authority on the Royals squad as they seek to establish themselves further in the NWSL and push for the postseason playoffs.
There’s no doubt that the NWSL enjoys increasingly widespread coverage and partnership support today with leading US broadcasters like FOX Sports providing excellent television coverage.
FOX also provides their very own FOX Bet platform, which offers legalized wagers to soccer fans in Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Jersey that also covers every kick of the NWSL.
More recently, the NWSL have also entered into corporate partnerships with global behemoths such as Google, who have since sponsored the league and are keen to help connect the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup to female soccer fans around the globe.
Interestingly, the Challenge Cup looks set to be staged on home turf for Harrington’s Royals, in Sandy’s Rio Tinto Stadium.
The one-off tournament, designed to celebrate the return of women’s soccer, is an eight-team event hosted by the Royals’ owner, Dell Loy Hansen.
As the league continues to grow year-on-year, the challenge is soon to become even greater for the likes of Harrington.
NWSL expansion and the future of the Royals
The NWSL will include up to 12 professional teams by 2021, with Racing Louisville FC entering into the league.
Harrington certainly has no qualms about playing an attack-minded brand of soccer, as shown by his debut game which yielded an end-to-end 3-3 draw with Houston.
After the big loss of Christen Press in recent months, Harrington has now given Amy Rodriguez the team captaincy and a chance to lead the Royals into the future.
Capped an incredible 132 times for the USWNT and a star of the 2015 World Cup side, Rodriguez is certainly an excellent foil for Harrington, with her experience much-needed in this new-look locker room.