After the North Carolina Courage scored their second goal, Utah Royals FC midfielder Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, standing at midfield waiting for play to restart, waved her arms up and down, urging the crowd to pick up its energy. It cheered loudly and later engaged in a “Let’s Go Royals” chant.
But then the third goal happened. A goal that keeper Nicole Barnhart didn’t appear to even attempt saving. At that point, nothing the Royals did could have stopped the inevitable.
“When that third one went in, that was just kind of a spirit-killer,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn said.
The Royals lost 3-0 to the Courage on Saturday night in front of 9,946 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium, potentially landing a prizefighter-type gut punch to Utah’s playoff hopes. But with Reign FC losing 1-0 to Sky Blue FC — the Reign are right behind the Royals in the standings — it helps Utah’s cause.
URFC conceded three goals for the first time this season. In last week’s loss against the Houston Dash, the Royals gave up two goals. It’s been one of the worst defensive stretches of the season.
But the three goals didn’t come from an offensive onslaught by the Courage. Instead, they came from mistakes Utah made, and several players attested to that.
“Our mistakes turned [into] their goals,” defender Mallory Weber said.
Samantha Mewis of North Carolina gave the Courage their first goal on a penalty kick. It was Sauerbrunn’s foul that allowed Mewis that opportunity.
But the second and third came from moments when it appeared Royals players weren’t completely focused on what was going on. Jaelene Hinkle sent a cross into the box that sailed so close to the goal, Barnhart attempted to catch it.
But the ball slipped through her gloves and went in. Sauerbrunn said it was the type of goal that happens “once in a blue moon.”
North Carolina’s third goal happened because the Royals were trying to play out of the back, coach Laura Harvey said, and it cost them.
“Tonight maybe our bravery got the better of us at times,” Harvey said. “I think the third goal is a good example of that. That’s bravery, the way we tried to play out. And it got the better of us.”
Sauerbrunn said that the game didn’t start to feel like it was getting away from Utah until that third goal, which occurred in the 70th minute from Debinha.
“I think with the 2-0 [deficit], I think we had some chances, we were getting into the final third a little bit more, so I thought the momentum was shifting in our direction,” Sauerbrunn said.
Ultimately, Harvey said, the Royals weren’t good enough on the ball, leading to the team never being able to find its groove.
“The way we play, when we move teams around and we pass the ball well, we make it difficult for teams,” Harvey said. “We didn’t do that well enough tonight.”
The Courage clinched their third consecutive NWSL Shield with the win.