Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Utah Royals acquire Kaleigh Riehl from San Diego; Emily Gray and Frankie Tagliaferri join from North Carolina

Utah Royals FC have had a busy trade window. The club is preparing to re-enter the National Women’s Soccer League after a prior stint that began in 2018 and ended in 2020, and they’ll join the league in 2024 as an expansion franchise. The organization has been busy at work building up their roster ahead of the NWSL Expansion Draft with an interesting Monday. 

The club signed its first franchise player, Mikayla Cluff, in a trade with Orlando Pride. Then, on Monday, Utah added three more players into the fold with Kaleigh Riehl from San Diego Wave FC in exchange for expansion draft protection and $60,000 in allocation money. They then acquired midfielders Emily Gray and Francesca “Frankie” Tagliaferri from the North Carolina Courage in exchange for $30,000 in Allocation Money and expansion protection.

“I’m incredibly excited to join Utah Royals FC – I can’t wait to bring women’s professional soccer back to Utah,” said Riehl, selected a year ago as one of San Diego’s expansion picks. “Amy Rodriguez has an immense amount of knowledge and experience in the game and I can’t wait to learn from her and her staff. I’m looking forward to competing with my teammates every day and contributing to this Club in any and every way I can. I’m also looking forward to getting to know the city, the fans and the community – everyone who makes this place special.”

Utah Royals will be Riehl’s third expansion club. She was previously selected by Racing Louisville in the 2021 expansion draft and later selected in the 2022 expansion draft by San Diego. In two seasons with San Diego, she appeared in 41 regular season games (37 starts) for the club. The centerback scored the club’s first-ever competitive goal, a game-tying goal in the 2022 Challenge Cup opener against Angel City FC. Her experience in the position will give Utah an immediate anchor in their backline for their inaugural season.

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A former Virginia Tech Hokie, Gray’s season was cut short after sustaining an ACL injury in March, but the 23-year-old midfielder is currently rehabbing and looking ahead to a new chapter. 

“I’m really excited for this opportunity to further my career with the Utah Royals,” said Gray, the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft. “Amy Rodriguez is a proven winner, and I’m looking forward to her leadership, to being coached by her and achieving great things at this club. I cannot wait to arrive in Utah and get things started.”

Tagliaferri will reunite with Riehl after the duo played together for Penn State prior to Tagliaferri’s transfer to Rutgers University for her senior year. Her 114 career NCAA games played at Penn State and Rutgers are the most ever by a Division I player.

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“I’m extremely excited for everything this opportunity has to offer, to go somewhere new to test my abilities and play soccer with another amazing club, learning from new players & staff,” said Tagliaferri.

“I’ve seen and heard so many amazing things about the Utah Royals club, they’ve handled everything so awesomely, the facilities are top-notch and obviously Amy is amazing. Growing up, I watched her closely – she was a favorite player of mine, winning gold medals and playing in World Cups, displaying grit and determination and so much heart. Talking to her now, I can feel how excited she is to build this roster, to prepare us to be successful as we kick off new eras – individually and collectively – in Utah.”

The four newly acquired players are the first Utah Royals athletes for Rodriguez and sporting director Kelly Cousins. The moves mean that three clubs — Orlando, San Diego, and North Carolina — have expansion protection from Utah Royals in the upcoming selection event.

“Both Kelly and myself are excited to welcome Riehl to the club,” said Rodriguez.

“I have no doubt that these players will put their blood, sweat, and tears into this team. As we build Utah Royals FC from scratch, these are precisely the type of players that you want – ones that will bring not just talent but also a relentlessness to roll up their sleeves up and get to work.”

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