Gone are the days when the Utah Royals FC picked up 13 points in its first six games. Gone are the days when the narrative was how stingy the Royals were on defense, racking up clean sheet after clean sheet after clean sheet. The team with championship aspirations now sits seventh in the nine-team National Women’s Soccer League with only 11 games remaining in the 2019 season.
Lately, the Royals have been creating many more opportunities to score compared to earlier in the season, but not finishing them. In the process, Utah has given up seven goals in the last four games. It appears that in their desire to put more balls in the back of the net, opponents are taking advantage of the spaces that creates in their defense.
“The more we are trying to press, get forward, get our chances, we are creating more,” midfielder Desiree Scott said after last Saturday’s loss to the North Carolina Courage. “Obviously when we're pushing numbers forward, that's going to leave gaps and holes. So I think it's finding that balance of still being that defensive rock that we know we can be [and] not getting stretched while still creating those chances.”
Right now, the Royals are somewhat caught in between two styles of play. Goals win games, but so does not allowing them. It’s a balance every team in the league has to strike, and Utah has found difficulty in recent weeks figuring out how to marry the two.
But that doesn’t mean team has completely lost sight of what it does best.
“I think that our M.O. or what Utah Royals are known for is being hard defensively,” forward Amy Rodriguez said. “We’ve had a few little mistakes here and there in the last couple of games that have led to some goals. But I wouldn’t say that we’re getting away from our identity.”
What’s happening to the Royals right now could possibly be explained by the fact that they just got back three integral players in Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press — they were in France for more than two months winning a Women’s World Cup — and are going through an adjustment period. Rodriguez said something similar happened after she returned to the now-defunct FC Kansas City from the 2015 World Cup win.
“We play differently with Press and Becky and Kelley, so that is a readjustment,” Rodriguez said. “But if anything, they’re contributing to our team in massive ways. We need to figure out how to get the best out of them and us and collective as a team [to] make it work so we can put three points on the board.”
There’s been disappointment emanating from the Royals locker room after the last few games. The team knows they’re creating enough chances to win. But coach Laura Harvey has said that the goals her team has conceded are avoidable.
Harvey said she thinks creating more chances is a direct result of having her best players on the field at the same time, particularly against the Courage. She seemed to like that development, but it comes down to the other side of the field.
“When we have our best players here, and we want to play expansively, we have to make sure that we give nothing away on our end,” Harvey said. “That comes from being really diligent defensively that not giving anything away.”
Rodriguez said the key to balancing offense and defense is focus — no taking breaks, no momentary lapses, no taking feet off the gas. She wants the Royals to be a team that no opponent wants to face because they’re going to keep imposing their will on the field and not stop.
Rodriguez believes that is still a possibility for the Royals.
“I think that we can be both,” Rodriguez said. "I think that we can be tight defensively and also an attacking threat. But it just comes down to not even taking a minute off in a game and just head down, work hard. That’s the identity that the Utah Royals want and that’s what we’re going to hopefully show out there.”
UTAH ROYALS FC AT CHICAGO RED STARS
At SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview, Ill.
Kickoff » Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV » KYMU (10:30 p.m. MT, tape delay)
Last meeting » URFC 1, Chicago 0 (May 3, Rio Tinto Stadium)
Records » URFC 5-5-3, Chicago 7-5-2
About Chicago » Alyssa Mautz (right knee), AJ Jahansouz (right knee), Michele Vasconcelos (left knee) are all out with injuries. … Morgan Brian, Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz and Alyssa Naeher are on international duty for the USWNT victory tour. Maria Sanchez is on international duty with Mexico. … Team sits third in the NSWL standings. … Currently on a three-game winning streak.
About URFC » They are in the midst of a five-game winless streak. ... Mandy Laddish (concussion) and Becca Moros (right leg) will not play. … Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara are on international duty again with the USWNT.