Sure, after being invited to the 2011 and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Amy Rodriguez was left off the team this year, surpassed by other USA attacking talent.
But with her World Cup teammates out, Rodriguez showed that she was the class of the remaining bunch by scoring an early bolt from the blue, enough against New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC on Saturday night for a 1-0 win for the Utah Royals.
The 16th-minute goal came in impressive fashion. Rodriguez picked the ball well on her side of the halfway line, then dribbled all the way to about 25 yards from the goal against a retreating Sky Blue defense. Given the space, Rodriguez took a shot — one she didn’t believed she could score.
“I thought I’d go for it. I honestly didn’t think I could score from there, but I tried my best on it," Rodriguez said. Her best was enough to get past Sky Blue keeper Didi Haracic’s fingertips.
From there, though, it was nervy at times. Sky Blue actually ended up taking more shots than the Royals, 16-9 — though the Royals got more shots on goal. And Sky Blue probably should have scored early in the second half, as a shot by Raquel Rodriguez was parried right to the midsection of Nahomi Kawasumi just a yard away from goal, for an attempt which then hit the post.
But after 90 minutes, it was another clean sheet for the Royals’ defense, their sixth this year. Veteran goalkeeper and captain Nicole Barnhart led the Utah backline, one that was missing stalwarts Becky Sauerbrunn — with the U.S. National Team, along with teammates Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara — and Rachel Corsie, who plays for Scotland.
But the defensive four of Becca Moros, Gaby Vincent, Sam Johnson and Michelle Maemone played solidly, getting in the way of the Sky Blue shots.
“Sometimes you win pretty, sometimes you win ugly, sometimes you grind it out,” Royals coach Laura Harvey said. “Outside of Amy’s goal ... the rest was just a grind."
Part of the grind was an injury to playmaker Vero Boquete, who suffered an ankle injury in the 25th minute. She gave a return a shot, but ended up being replaced by Mallory Weber 10 minutes later. Harvey said Boquete didn’t feel the injury was too serious, but full testing had yet to be performed.
“When you get an injury to one of your most creative players, that can nullify the pretty,” Harvey said.
But the Royals winning another grind-out game, their fourth 1-0 result of the season, shows progress, Harvey said. "Last year, we wouldn’t have won that game.”
It’s showing in the standings, too: They’ve moved up to second place in the NWSL, just one point short of the league-leading Washington Spirit, who drew with Reign FC on Sunday night. The win was part of what Harvey called a season-defining three-game stretch for the Royals, before the national team call-ups are set to return.
“We had a stretch last year, roughly against the same teams, and I don’t think we won any of them," Harvey said. “These three games are vital to our season.”
So far, so good.