For the Utah Royals FC, there’s really only been two players who have been scoring goals consistently: Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez.
The two forwards play together up top in coach Laura Harvey’s 4-1-2-1-2 formation, and have combined for 11 of the 14 goals scored by the club so far in 2019 (Rodriguez has 6, Press has five). But there’s a caveat: Until Wednesday’s blowout over Sky Blue FC, Press and Rodriguez had not appeared on the score sheet in the same game.
The reason for that could be as simple as Press missed a big chunk of the season because she went to win a Women’s World Cup for the United States. Press played in the first two games of 2019 and scored once. After Press left, Rodriguez racked up her goals and got to five before someone could say “golazo.” Then Press returned on July 19 and scored against Portland and North Carolina before missing the Chicago game due to the USWNT’s victory tour.
But Press and Rodriguez provided the three goals against Sky Blue, with Press scoring a brace. It provided a glimpse into the partnership between those two players that hasn’t been allowed to develop much due to Press’ responsibilities with the national team.
“I think the hard thing this year has been that that relationship hasn’t been able to fully flourish and develop,” Harvey said Monday. “But it’s something that we’re talking about and trying to look ahead. With 10 games left, it means we’ve got an opportunity with those two to push it in the right direction.”
Something Harvey did to get the ball rolling a bit faster was, on that same Monday, have a meeting with Press, Rodriguez and midfielder Veronica Boquete. The subject of that meeting, Boquete said Friday, was figuring out what those three players needed from the rest of the team in order to get the ball in areas where they could create more opportunities.
One of the manifestations of that idea seemed to be putting Katie Stengel in Boquete’s position on Wednesday. Harvey said that made Stengel a decoy and allowed Boquete to see more of the ball. It’s unclear whether that tactic will continue, however, as it may have employed based on the opponent.
But one thing is for sure: the Royals are trying to maximize the trio in any way possible.
“It’s difficult right now because we don’t train a lot because we’ve got games midweek,” Harvey said. “But I think now that we pretty much have them for the whole time, not missing any games, it will be something that we know if we’re going to get anywhere near where we want to be, those three are a huge part of that.”
On the current trajectory, Press and Rodriguez will far and away be the highest producers on the team. Harvey said she changed formations at the start of this season in order to utilize both of their abilities as strikers. Having both on the field together creates a decision-making nightmare for opposing defenses, Harvey said.
“You can’t stop both of them. You can’t,” Harvey said. “[Rodriguez] gets a lot of pressure around her because they know what she can do. But that frees up Vero, it frees up Christen, and then vice versa. I thought it was great [Wednesday] that they both got on the score sheet.”
And as for Boquete, she’s the catalyst that provides Press and Rodriguez the opportunities to score. Even if she’s not making the final pass, Boquete feels its her job to be involved in the sequence that leads to goals.
“If I have to assist another player so they can assist in a better position, it’s also great,” Boquete said.
Rodriguez said playing up top with Press allows each of them relief depending on who the defense decides to focus on in any given game. She also spoke to the importance of the team’s midfielders have having multiple targets for their passes up the field.
“So much of our game is dependent on our midfield and finding those passes to us so if Christen and I can make some runs off of our midfield, that gives them two players to find, not just one,” Rodriguez said. “So I’m really grateful for our partnership and I think that [Wednesday] you saw a lot of really good goals, from her specifically just because of that chemistry that we have on the field.”
UTAH ROYALS FC AT SEATTLE REIGN
At Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington
Kickoff » Sunday, 2 p.m.
TV » KYMU
Radio » ESPN 700
Last meeting » Seattle 2, URFC 0 (June 28, Rio Tinto Stadium)
Records » URFC 6-6-3, Seattle 7-3-5
About Seattle » The Reign have only lost one game at home this season. … Jess Fishlock and Bethany Balcer lead team with three goals apiece. … Laura Harvey used to coach the Reign before moving to Utah. … Coming off a two-game winning streak.
About URFC » Snapped a six-game winless streak with win over Sky Blue FC on Wednesday. … Becca Moros (right leg) and Kelley O’Hara (left ankle) are out. … Mandy Laddish (concussion) is questionable. … Amy Rodriguez leads team with six goals, while Christen Press has five. … Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart has seven clean sheets on the season.