Sandy • Ahead of the Aug. 3 road game against the Chicago Red Stars, the Utah Royals FC were shorthanded at the outside back position. Kelley O’Hara was away with the United States Women’s National Team on a Women’s World Cup victory tour, and veteran Rebecca Moros was injured.
In the two training sessions conducted before game day, a few players rotated into that position. One of those players was Mallory Weber, a midfielder the Royals acquired after the Portland Thorns waived her.
After one of the sessions concluded, Royals coach Laura Harvey approached Weber with an opportunity: play outside back against Red Stars.
“Let’s see how it goes,” Weber recalled Harvey saying.
And despite some predictable growing pains, it has gone quite well. Weber has started at outside back for six consecutive games, and played the full 90 minutes in the last four. Before the change, she had played just nine minutes in the previous three games.
During her time in Portland, Weber played at outside back “three or four times” in three years. So the position wasn’t completely brand new to her. But in these last six games, she’s felt the full brunt of the learning curve.
Weber told The Salt Lake Tribune that the biggest adjustment in moving from the midfield to a defensive role was how much more discipline it takes. Timing her movements with the other three defenders. Making sure she doesn’t step even 2 feet two wide for danger of an opponent playing through the gap. Keeping her hips open. Constantly playing on the front foot.
“It’s just a completely different mindset,” Weber said.
There’s also added stress that comes with being more responsible for stopping an opponent’s attack. When she was a midfielder, a mistake Weber made could be erased by the prowess of the four — five including goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart — behind her. But now she’s one of those last lines of defense. If she messes up there, a shot on goal is more likely, Weber said.
“Mistakes can be capitalized on more easily than [if] you make them in the middle of the field and they still have half the field to go,” Weber said.
The Royals lost Weber’s first game at her new position. She said defender Rachel Corsie constantly gave her direction and encouraging words, even after she would make a mistake. Midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta also helped some against the Red Stars.
But game after game, Weber has become more comfortable in the position. She said captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who returned from USWNT duty after the Chicago game, has made it easier for her to play at outside back just by being next to her on the field and being “solid” on the ball.
LaBonta said Weber provides a different look at outside back than others on the Royals who play the position, giving URFC an advantage there.
“I think having Mal back there, it’s great to have a different type of personality than like [Katie] Bowen does on the field,” LaBonta said. “So it’s good to switch it up because then teams are going to have to try and figure that out.”
Weber said there’s still some work to be done with her new position. While she’s been comfortable going forward and getting into the attack at the right opportunities, she admitted she sometimes steps to too hard and gets beat by opposing attackers.
But she’s not necessarily looking forward to switching back to the midfield any time soon.
“It’s really grown on me,” Weber said of playing outside back. “I feel like you have a lot more time on the ball as an outside back when you’re attacking. So I kind of like it back there.”
UTAH ROYALS FC at HOUSTON DASH
At BBVA Stadium, Houston, Texas
Kickoff » Friday, 6:30 p.m. MT
Records » URFC 9-6-4; Houston 6-9-4
Last meeting » Houston 2, URFC 1 (May 11)
TV » 10 p.m. (tape), KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
About Houston » Dash have won just two games at home this season. … Team on a two-game losing streak after winning three of its previous five. … Rachel Daly leads team with five goals. ... Dash have a minus-13 goal differential.
About URFC » Currently on a five-game unbeaten streak. … Has not lost on the road since Aug. 3 against Chicago. … Nicole Barnhart has a league-high 10 shutouts this season. … Amy Rodriguez and Christen Press have 14 of the team’s 20 total goals.