Utah Royals lose 2-0 to Washington Spirit in showdown for first place in NWSL

With the top spot in the National Women’s Soccer League table on the line, Utah Royals FC’s lack of scoring came back to bite it.

Utah was held scoreless in a 2-0 loss to the Washington Spirit on Saturday at the Maryland Soccerplex. The Spirit now hold the top spot in the NWSL with 16 points, while URFC stands at second place with 13 points.

Saturday’s game marked the first time the Royals both lost to the Spirit and conceded any goals to them. It was also the first time a team shut out Utah.

Coach Laura Harvey took credit for the loss.

“I think the way we defended wasn’t effective enough and that’s on me," Harvey said. “Just said to the players, they’ve given everything over the past two and a half months. They’ve worked their absolute backsides off to get to this point and I didn’t do them justice tonight, that’s on me. We’ll be better, we’ll be sure that we prepare better.”

The Royals had more shots on goal than the Spirit, but Washington outshot Utah overall, 15-7. Washington also won the battle of passing accuracy and possession en route to the win.

The Sprit got going in the 23rd minute. The ball got deflected by a Royals defender right into the path of Tori Huster. After a few dribbles down the right side of the field, Huster placed a through ball just outside the box to Ashley Hatch, who got free, shot between two Utah defenders and bounced a goal past Nicole Barnhart for a 1-0 lead.

Late in the second half, Dorian Bailey finished a shot that pinged off the crossbar on Hatch’s close-range shot.

“We just have to be better," Harvey said. “We have to be better on the ball, we have to be better defensively. I think that tonight will be a good thing for us, we’ll learn from it, we learned from the Houston game and we solved a lot of things.”

Utah played without Lo’eau LaBonta, who is serving a two-game suspension for an incident that occurred during its win over the Orlando Pride last week. Defender Katie Bowen also didn’t play because she left for the FIFA Women’s World Cup with New Zealand, making her the sixth and final Royals player to be out due to international duty.