Red-hot Utah Royals FC went into Wednesday night’s NWSL game against the Washington Spirit intending to build on a three-game winning streak.
The Royals left the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyd, Md., having to settle for a four-game unbeaten stretch instead.
After outlasting both an extended weather delay and a first-half onslaught from their opponent, the Royals ultimately came away with a 0-0 draw.
Still, in a game that saw them outshot 18-7 and outpossessed 56-44 percent, earning a point was perhaps not the worst result in the world.
It certainly took them a long while to get it.
After only about 90 seconds of game action, the players were sent back to the locker rooms to wait out a 90-minute weather delay.
Once the teams returned to the field following the lightning storm, it was the Spirit who came out all charged up.
ROYALS 0, SPIRIT 0
• Utah’s three-game winning streak becomes a four-game unbeaten streak after neither team can find the net on Wednesday night.
• Less than two minutes in, the game is delayed about an hour and a half by lightning in the area.
• Though the Royals are outshot 18-7 for the game, they have the best scoring chance of the night, but Amy Rodriguez’s left-footed try in the 78th minute sails too high.
Washington had a chance early, with team scoring leader Ashley Hatch intercepting a Royals pass deep in their own territory, driving up the middle, then launching a rocket that goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart had to leap and tip over the crossbar.
The Spirit remained on the attack, pouring constant pressure toward goal in the game’s first 10 minutes, which Utah was fortunate to withstand.
Even once Utah recovered enough to equalize the possession for a bit, the team never did get much going in the initial 45 minutes.
Washington deployed a high line defensively that proved nearly impenetrable. First off, it forced myriad turnovers near the box. And if the Royals did make it through, the scheme then forced them into attempting long passes from the midfield that rarely connected.
Washington, meanwhile, kept Barnhart busy.
In the 15th minute, she charged to the edge of the box to snatch the ball away from a pressing Crystal Thomas. In stoppage time just seconds before the break, she came off her line to punch away yet another Spirit try.
The Royals, meanwhile, didn’t even get a shot attempt until the 53rd minute of the game, when Christen Press broke through the press high on the right side, angled in toward the net, and unleashed a screamer that Spirit keeper Audrey Bledsoe had to parry away.
The rebound landed right at the feet of Press, whose second try was again deflected. She then crossed to fellow forward Amy Rodriguez, whose attempt was flicked up on a chip shot, but safely plucked from the air by Bledsoe.
About two-thirds of the way through the game, Utah took advantage of the Spirit’s tiring legs and finally strung together some ball control and consistent scoring opportunities.
In the 78th minute, Press threaded a pass down the middle to an onrushing Rodriguez, who got in front on the defense for Utah’s best look of the night. However, she got too far under the ball, and her left-footed try wound up sailing high and curling several feet over the bar.
The Royals’ final opportunity of the night came in the third and final minute of second-half stoppage time, when Mallory Weber, from the field’s left side, booted a cross into the box that managed to drop and bounce just out of reach of both the sliding Press and Veró Boquete after her.
Barnhart posted her ninth clean sheet of this season, as the Royals moved to 8-6-4 with 28 points. Bledsoe earned her seventh shutout, with the Spirit now at 6-7-4 (22 points).