Utah Royals FC wins season opener, 1-0 over Washington Spirit at Rio Tinto Stadium

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta trains at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Friday April 6, 2018.

Sandy • Lo’eau LaBonta picked a good night for her first goal in a Utah Royals FC uniform.

The midfielder, who did not score last year despite playing in 16 games, picked up a goal in the 10th minute of URFC’s home opener Saturday at Rio Tinto. Her right-footed strike gave the Royals the lift they needed to win, 1-0.

“I was just lucky enough to get a goal today,” LaBonta said. “It doesn’t happen very often, so I’ll take it.”

LaBonta scored two goals in the 2017 season as a member of FC Kansas City. She said her goal could mean the Royals won’t have to rely solely on forwards Christen Press and Amy Rodriquez to find the back of the net due to the team’s overall versatility.

“It’s great for me, especially being [on] this team not getting a goal at all last year,” LaBonta said. “It’s definitely going to help me boost a little of my confidence, take more shots. But I think it’s just great to help the team that way.”

In the 10th minute, Press dispossessed a Washington player in the backfield and dribbled around the box for some time. She then passed to LaBonta, who scored with her right foot for the 1-0 Royals lead.

In the 75th minute, the Spirit had a great chance to tie the game after the Royals committed a foul right at the 18-yard box. Rose Lavelle lined up the ball, which was right in the center of the goal, but missed just over the crossbar.

In the 84th, Mallory Pugh had a pinpoint shot at goal and struck hard with her left foot. But Royals keeper Nicole Barnhart was there to save it. Barnhart had two saves on the evening.

The Royals handed the Spirit their first loss of the season after they beat Sky Blue FC 2-0 in their opener last week. With the win, URFC moved to a tie for fourth place in the league.

Last season, the Royals lost their home opener in front of a sellout crowd. On Saturday, the fans were slightly fewer — an announced 18,015 — but the result was better. The team got the three points it wanted, but was still a bit disappointed in how they played.

“Thankfully, having a win and not feeling like we played great is arguably the best feeling,” Royals coach Laura Harvey said, “because you can go away, you can look at it, you can really be critical of yourselves and try and make sure you adapt to make them better for next game.”

Harvey said the team wanted to start off with better results than it did last season, when the Royals had four draws in their first five games. Harvey and company have not been shy about their desire to make the playoffs this season, and Saturday’s win was clearly a step in the right direction.

“I wish we could’ve made it easier on ourselves, both defensively and with the ball,” Harvey said. “But it will give us loads of things to talk about and learn from in preparation for next week.”

Midfielder Vero Boquete made her Royals FC debut, and appeared in the starting lineup. She was disappointed with her first-half performance, but settled in during the second half.

Boquete reiterated that the Royals would have liked to have played a better game, and joined that sentiment with hoping that they continue to get crowds like the one that showed up Saturday.

“We just hope that they come back,” Boquete said, regarding the fans. “We know that today was not perfect, but at least we tried and we got the three points. After now, we promise we will improve. We’re going to get better. The next game here, it will be a better show.”