For Love of the Game: RSL Women Recognize Former Coaches

June 19th, 2015 | by Shawn Blymiller
(Photo: RSL Women)

(Photo: RSL Women)

Recently Real Salt Lake Women have received some public notoriety. Yes, there is a professional women’s soccer team that competes in Utah. The RSL Women compete in the WPSL — the Women’s Premier Soccer League is a national women’s soccer league in the United States and Puerto Rico, and is on the 2nd level of women’s soccer in the United States soccer pyramid, alongside the W-League and below National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

The league is sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association as an affiliate of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). RSL women have their first home game of the 2015 campaign on Friday, June 19th at 7 pm at Ute Field against the Texas Spurs.

In recent weeks, the RSL Women have had articles written about them in the Deseret News, and interviews on KSL morning talk shows, as well as an interview on Good 4 Utah on Channel 4 News.

(Photo: RSL Women)

(Photo: RSL Women)

Recently, I sat down with the founders of this team to find out the inspiration of putting this team together. They talked me through their motivation to build a higher level women’s team in the state of Utah, along with their early struggles. Without these dedicated individuals, I really do not believe that RSL Women would be around today. Dennis Burrows was the head coach from 2008-2015. He had a number of assistant coaches that helped along the way; Damian Munoz, Ab Rees, Patrick Rennie, John Ragsdale, Eric Stephens. They volunteered their time to make this ambition of making a professional women’s soccer team in Utah a reality.

Dennis Burrows: “What happened was I had been wanting to do it for years. I had ran a men’s team for so long, I had done Dundee United and Pan World. So I thought I can do this for the girls.

“I talked to Bill Bosgraaf, and he said ‘this is what we have.’ I wasn’t interested in an adult women’s team. I did have my U-16s, U-17s, and U-18s girls in the adult league on the women’s side. I did that to help the women’s side and to help my girls. That wasn’t really a challenge, we were killing everybody. I was like, there are better players, so I got to do something. So Patrick Rennie and I chatted. I had the idea of doing a women’s semiprofessional team. I said, ‘well if we do it here, what league can we be in?’ That is when Sara Buie (Cowley) came to me, because she was one of my coaches at Sparta, and she said we have an opportunity to join this WPSL. Do you guys want to do it? Buie says I have this friend Kendra Halterman and she wants to help. I said, ‘yeah, let’s do it.’ I talked with Sparta and they gave us the blessing. Then we talked to the league. The league came back and said that we needed to start in a month. We were talking about doing it a year later. So then they had to go to Sparta and asked “Hey, can you guys back these girls?” Patrick Rennie worked things out with Ben Vandenhazel, the founder of Sparta United and they signed the papers and sent it off. That’s when we became Spara United Women’s.”

Ab Rees: “You know when the team first started it was Dennis, Kendra, and Buie. Buie was one of our coaches at Sparta at the time. Dennis approached me to help him coach it. The idea was, we are girls youth coaches, and how neat would it be for our club to have a semi-pro team so from a club perspective the young girls in the club can see that there is a higher level during and after college. I didn’t really come up with the idea, I was recruited to help coach. Dennis, Buie, and Kendra came up with the idea and Patrick was involved early on because we made it a Sparta United Team. He had a conversation with Ben Vandenhazel and Jerry Zanelli the runner of the league. We did it so our youth players had a place to strive for, like a higher level to obtain.”

Damian Munoz: “I was a van driver, dude.”

Ab: “Talk about hardships. We didn’t have any money. We are raising our own money. We were manning concession stand at the Sparta tournament. We were cleaning Rice Eccles stadium after Real Salt Lake games as a team.”

Damian: “For $1,000, I think it was.”

(Photo: Hagoth Lelepali/RSL Women)

(Photo: Hagoth Lelepali/RSL Women)

Ab: “I am not even sure if it was even that much. They were paying us a little to clean that entire stadium. The players were involved, the administrators were involved. Kendra and Buie were brought in as founding members on the administration side. Dennis recruited Damian and I to help coach. Man, the road trips. The worst ones were to Phoenix. Driving to Phoenix and Tucson.  We were on a shoe-string budget. We were skimping on hotel rooms.”

Damian: “Remember we used to stop at Sam’s club and eat the rolls there, and get the sandwiches there.”

Ab: “Instead of spending the night, we would drive straight through to Tucson, hop out of the vans and begin our warm ups. It was really, really hard on the players. They have been cooped up for 15 hours and they hop out and start their warm up.

“The worst one was when we drove to Phoenix, hopped out of the vans and played a game. The next morning we drive to Tucson, played a game, turned around and drove back to Phoenix, spent the night, woke up the next morning, played another game and hopped in the vans and drove straight home. So it was like a four-day, three-game trip. One time we got home and Damian was driving, because they have photo cops there, Damian had like 3 speeding tickets (Laughter). One of them he is waving at them (laughter).”

Damian: “It was bad, it was just going there hoping that you could get a tie dude. There was no way you could go there and win. We didn’t have the best players. Those players said, hey I don’t want to be in the van for 15 hours.”

Ab: “Ya, but you know what, we had some success. Our first goal for this club was scored by Jenn Flynn, who was a junior in high school, a Sparta player. Our first goal was scored by one of our youth players.

“Soccer in the United States has grown from the grassroots level one step at a time. In Utah for Women’s soccer, that was a step that everyone needed to sacrifice to build for the women. We were happy to do it. The team paid us back by playing really well and putting their hearts into the project and winning. Between Patrick, Dennis, Damian, and I we have had every Sparta team since the 1988 age group. So that is really why we built it so that those players could get out of the youth system, and get out of college and have another level to go to. With our ties to the community, that made it easy.

“2012 was our best year. You know the playoffs in that region are hard to get into because there are so many teams — very few actually make it into the playoffs. We went into Southern California against the founder of the organization’s team. The California Storm are always a perennial powerhouse. They always have players like Cece who has World Cup records for Brazil, and Brandi Chastain plays for that team. So they have big time players that play for them and I think we shocked them. We went in and beat them, and then we beat the San Diego Sea Lions and those are two teams that are pretty good and well established teams. It was a really neat experience for the girls to play at that level, and then have a lot of success at that level.”

Damian: “For me, when I was a kid, someone did it for me, and I think it was the right time for me to do it for someone else. You know, maybe later on, someone else is going to do it for someone else. One point you do it because you can help. Soccer is a community of people helping. That is how we started. There was no money.”

Dennis: “Kendra, Buie, and I did all of the administration, did all of the organization. We did all of the setting up of the events. We didn’t have sponsors then. We got a few here and there. Most of our money came from going and walking stadiums cleaning up after RSL games and going out to Usana and being the crowd people there. If you went out and did it for us, then we would get a piece of it, then you would get some money. Along the way there were some private donations. It was a shoestring budget — we drove vans. We drove 15 passenger vans all the way to Phoenix and back 2 years in a row.

“We brought in players that we all had kind of coached in club. Spiders was there for a year, so we were fighting for them for players. The Spiders went away the next year so we did even better. The next year we helped bring in the Stars down in Orem. Made it easier to travel for away teams, because you can get two games in one trip. Then the next year we helped start a team in St. George. So we got three teams started here and it was going really good. Well the following year the funding in Provo dried up. That is when it went back down to only us, and that is when RSL started putting money into it.

Annie Hawkins, the captain of RSL Women, has played with and against some of the biggest names in women's soccer. (Courtesy photo: RSL Women)

Annie Hawkins, the captain of RSL Women, has played with and against some of the biggest names in women’s soccer. (Courtesy photo: RSL Women)

“The evolution from Sparta was to Salt Lake United. The reason for that was that people were shy of it because it was ‘Sparta.’ So we said, ‘you know, everything we do is United,’ (Ab, Dennis, and Patrick own and operate an indoor soccer facility called The United Soccer Center in Sandy, Utah) so we made it Salt Lake United. Salt Lake United started to get more and more players for a couple of years, and then we started talking to our guy at RSL, Bill Manning. Bill Bosgraaf got us a meeting with Manning. We went in there and he got us in front of Dell Loy Hansen. We had tried the year before and didn’t have any luck. This time we got in with Dell Loy and he was all over it.

“We must have put thousands of hours in, especially Kendra, Buie, and I. The coaches donated their time coaching. Well, it started working out, we started getting all of the good players, we ended up winning our region, going into the final four. We got second at Nationals twice. We were really doing some nice things. Then we had an off year, where we took third in our region. Then we got put into the upper division this last year, we went out and really expanded our wings. We went out and played in the National Cup again. We weren’t prepared for that. The teams we played were in season and we weren’t. We played well and played against some really good teams. Then we came back in that conference in Northern California and lost. We ended up 1 or 2 points off of taking 2nd place and making the playoffs. It came down to the last game. Only two teams out of the conference go to the playoffs. But we were right there. We tied one of the teams we had never beaten, and beat the other. We played everybody great and had a really good rhythm and vibe last year. So we started toying around with jumping up to the WPSL Elite. Over the winter is where everything changed with the Monarchs coming in. That is when they ousted us.

“I want the program to go on. I support coach Jeff Ginn 100 percent. I don’t feel like the organization itself has given credit to guys and coaches that put the time and their heart into this, and to be honest volunteered. We got a stipend the last 3 years and some apparel items. Nothing worth the hundreds of hours that we have put in. We are coaches that were just trying to build something and to help build women’s soccer.”

I interviewed these guys at the United Soccer Center. They are soccer people inside and out. They have all been around the sport for a lifetime in the state of Utah. They have built Utah soccer to a point of recognition. They are all coaches in the Utah Olympic Development program and they have offered so much to the youth and the game here state wide. I think these men need to be recognized publicly for the work that they have done. So in the first week of the 2015 season for the Real Salt Lake Women, many thanks and respect to Dennis, Ab, Damian, Patrick, and John. As well as to everyone else that was involved in building the program.

“We need to recognize that there is a significant past to this program,” RSL Women’s coach Jeff Ginn said. “The culture these coaches created will carry us into the future. Dennis Burrows and his coaching staff were instrumental and monumental in developing this women’s soccer club.”

Shawn Blymiller

Shawn Blymiller

I was a guest host on a weekly podcast called "The Jockularity Show" in preparation of the World Cup. It was there that Rick Aaron from Channel 4 News coined me a "Soccer Geek". I played 2 seasons in the Premier Developmental League, 1 year with BYU and 1 year with the Ogden Outlaws. I also played soccer in college and was named to the All-conference teams. Soccer is my passion, it is in my makeup and in my DNA. I am staying involved with the beautiful game as much as I possibly can. I have done the play by play and the color commentating for games in the PDL, and the Western Athletic Conference for UVU. Follow my posts about RSL, RSL Women, Real Monarchs, UVU Soccer, BYU Soccer, and just about everything else in the footballing world. #COYG Arsenal!
Shawn Blymiller

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