Sandy • Something is different about the Utah Royals FC.
It’s not merely that the Royals sit at the top of the table in the National Women’s Soccer League. It’s not just that they have won three consecutive games to start the 2019 season. It’s more than that.
“Our mentality this year is intense,” said forward Amy Rodriguez, who scored the game-winning goal in Utah’s 1-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars on Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium. “I think that we are on our front foot and we’re willing to push and we want to set the tone early with a lot of teams.”
Coach Laura Harvey said the team wasn’t happy with how start of last season transpired. URFC tied five of its first seven games, something both the players and coaches have said could have been the reason they missed the playoffs by only two points.
But this season is different. The win over Chicago gave the Royals their third straight win and nine points, putting them in sole possession of first place in the league. They are the only team in the league without a loss or a tie.
“They’re winners,” Harvey said. “They want to win and they’re not satisfied when they don’t. I think we didn’t know enough about each other to know that straight away. We were too nice to each other at times because everything was so new. It’s not the case now.”
The Royals did it Friday with Rodriguez’s goal in the 84th minute that took a village to complete. Gunnhildur Jonsdottir had to slide to get a pass from midfielder Erika Tymrak over to Rodriguez, who was making a run into the 18-yard box. Rodriguez also had to slide just to get the ball, but her touch on it was enough to get it past her defender and Chicago’s goalkeeper for the goal.
Jonsdottir said she hoped Rodriguez would get to her cross.
“It was a bad cross, I’m not going to lie,” Jonsdottir said. “But she did well.”
The 80-plus minutes before that sequence saw scoreless soccer, but plenty of chances for both teams. Red Stars forward Sam Kerr had two good chances to score in the first half, but Royals keeper Nicole Barnhart stopped her both times.
In the ninth minute of action, Utah rookie left back Michelle Maemone tried her foot at a shot, but it pinged off the right corner of the crossbar. Midfielder Vero Boquete had a free kick at the top of the box late in the game that also hit the crossbar.
But Rodriguez’s one goal was enough. The Royals now have had three different players score a goal in their three wins.
Harvey likes that URFC has won the games and shut out opponents, but there’s a part of her that wants to score a tad more.
“It just gives me heart attacks,” Harvey said. “Can we score two and then I can just relax a little bit?”
Red Stars midfielder Kaitlyn Johnson picked up a red card in the 42nd minute after her elbow made contact with Boquete as the two were in the air going for a ball. Johnson’s ejection put Chicago a player down for the remainder of the game.
The Royals signed three players to contracts as national team replacements Friday.
Raisa Strom-Okimoto, Meghan Cox and Alexa Kimball are signed for the duration of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which goes from June 7 to July 7. Strom-Okimoto will supplement Christen Press, Cox will fill in for Kelley O’Hara and Kimball will supplement Becky Sauerbrunn.
Press, O’Hara and Sauerbrunn were named to the United States Women’s National Team’s World Cup roster Thursday.