As the ball flew in the air in her direction, Utah Royals FC forward Christen Press tracked it with eagle-eye precision. Then, as if practicing a karate move, she kicked her right leg as high as it could go just to get a touch on the ball.
She did, but it bounced behind her back before it hit the field below. Press pirouetted, took a touch with that same right foot, and took her left-footed attempt at goal with three defenders around her. That was all the Royals needed.
Press scored her first goal of the season, lifting the Royals to a 1-0 win over the Orlando Pride on Saturday on the road. Utah has now won two consecutive games and moves to the top of the National Women’s Soccer League standings with six points.
Royals rookie defender Michelle Maemone provided the assist for Press’ goal. Press now has a goal and an assist on the season, showcasing — at least early in the season — her versatility.
“She was phenomenal tonight, the Royals’ Becky Sauerbrunn said of Press. "That touch – I mean I’ve seen her do that before so I know it wasn’t a fluke. She’s world class and the goal was world class.”
Saturday’s win marked the first time ever that Utah beat Orlando. The Royals lost two games against the Pride in 2018 and drew the third.
URFC did exactly what it wanted to do to start the season: win the first two games while its entire contingent of Women’s World Cup players were on the field. But now the Royals will be without Press, Sauerbrunn and Kelly O’Hara — all of whom are staples for the United States Women’s National Team — for the foreseeable future.
Seven Royals players are expected to miss significant time during the season due to the World Cup.
In the 19th minute, Maemone played the ball into the box to Press, who settled it by extending her left leg all the way out just to get a touch on the ball. Once she secured it, she took a touch with her right foot and went back to her left for the shot, which rolled past Pride keeper Haley Kopmeyer’s outstretched hand for the 1-0 lead.
Utah had a prime opportunity to extend its lead in stoppage time of the first half. Amy Rodriguez received a pass and was alone in front of Kopmeyer. Rodriguez took a shot from about 12 yards away, but Kopmeyer guessed right and saved it.
In the 88th minute, Katie Bowen picked up a yellow card on a play that was just outside the 18-yard box. Pride midfielder Marta’s free kick sailed just over the crossbar, preserving Utah’s win.
Utah outshot Orlando 17-15, and had six shots on goal to the Pride’s four. The Royals had five less corner kicks than Orlando, which tallied 10.