Sandy • After the game against the North Carolina Courage last week, Utah Royals FC coach Laura Harvey and defender Makenzy Doniak had a conversation intended to send a message to the former Courage player: Stay the course, trust the process and the journey.
Harvey traded for Doniak last season while she was recovering from a torn ACL. She recently made her first appearance and has since been a quality sub for the Royals.
Harvey said she thought Doniak going back to play North Carolina last week was difficult for her, but ultimately a mental turning point. Doniak may have proved Harvey’s point when she provided the game-sealing goal in Utah’s 2-0 win over the Orlando Pride on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“It’s honestly indescribable,” an almost breathless Doniak said of her feelings toward scoring her first goal of the season. “Just the work to get here was really hard. It meant a lot to me.”
Doniak’s goal marked the first time the Royals scored multiple goals all season. In their previous five games, they had been able to muster only one. It’s been a trend midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta recently described as “funny.”
Forward Amy Rodriguez commended Doniak not only for her “comfort goal,” but also for coming back strong from her ACL injury.
“I’ve been in her corner all year long,” said Rodriguez, who was coming back from her own ACL injury just last season. “That was me last year. I couldn’t be more excited for Makenzy.”
Doniak’s goal came in the 89th minute after LaBonta went quickly on a free kick and placed the ball right in her path and it was just her versus Pride goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer. Doniak’s shot went through Kopmeyer’s legs and into the back of the net.
“I think you saw the elation in her when she scored,” Harvey said. “I think she went out on the field today and just put absolutely everything out there and got her just reward.”
Orlando coach Marc Skinner said both of Utah’s goals were “really scrappy,” but gave the caveat that the Royals should have been down a woman because one of them “booted” one of his.
“She should not have been on the pitch, in my opinion,” Skinner said. “So that would’ve potentially given an advantage where it should’ve been given to us because I don’t think that was fair and I think the referee needs to look at her decision-making on that.”
Before Doniak sealed the deal, Utah was nursing a 1-0 lead for nearly 60 minutes. Vero Boquete, who left the game in the first half with a right quad injury and did not return, drew a penalty in the 29th minute and Rodriguez put away the penalty shot two minutes later. Late in the second half, the Pride threw numbers forward in an attempt to secure the late equalizer, but the Royals held on.
“I think we’re getting used to teams kind of throwing the kitchen sink at us in the end,” Rodriguez said.
Utah’s win once again put it atop the National Women’s Soccer League standings with 13 points and a 4-1-1 record. But Harvey still thinks her team can play better.
“I don’t think it was our best performance by a long stretch,” Harvey said. “But I think that we showed some grit and character, which we’d asked for of the players all week.”
Doniak said the team talked about its one-goal curse of sorts after the game.
“It felt good to kind of break that barrier of only getting one goal a game,” Doniak said. “I think we are very capable of more than one goal and we know that, but our finishing needs to be touched up a little bit. So to get that second goal, it kind of reassured us that we’re there, we’re on the door knocking. It was a good feeling to get two goals this game.”
So it seems now the Royals can finally say they are no longer a one-goal wonder.