Sandy • The last blow of the whistle allowed the fans clad in gold to lift themselves out of their seats and salute the half of soccer they’d been yearning for, well, a very long time. So they did. They gave their team a standing ovation.
Because for once, there was no talk of lack of finishing in front of goal, or lack of scoring chances created, or being unable to run the opposition off its home field inside Rio Tinto Stadium. On Saturday night, Utah Royals FC did what it was supposed to do against the worst team in the NWSL: Put the other team to bed. And early. It looked easy.
“If you score early, goals change games,” Royals coach Laura Harvey said. “I’m renowned for saying that, but it’s true.”
The Royals made club history at home, and did so in historic, comforting fashion. They thumped visiting and still winless Sky Blue FC 3-1, eclipsing the three-goal mark for the first time in the very brief existence of the organization.
It all got started, unsurprisingly, with the franchise’s sparkling new acquisition, Christen Press.
In her second-ever match with the Royals, the U.S. women’s national team star goal-scorer christened the south-side goal with an early tap-in. Press put the Royals up 1-0 — and ended their two-game scoreless streak — in the seventh minute after running onto a pass into the box originally intended for teammate Gunny Jonsdottir. The Icelandic national-teamer whiffed her attempt, but it fell perfectly for Press, who took her time and finished with ease with her left foot.
“She’s kinda good,” said forward Katie Stengel, who had two goals Saturday night.
“Obviously we’ve got quite a bit of speed up front now with Christen,” added midfielder Katrina Gorry, “and if we create enough space she gets on the ball and makes her own opportunities.”
The impact the Royals envisioned — and the NWSL feared — was on full display in Press’ first start Wednesday, but there would be no scoreless draw Saturday night. Press made sure of that. And she ensured the party continued. In the 25th minute, Press found Stengel, who chipped a shot over the onrushing goalkeeper to put the Royals up 2-0.
Harvey said while the likes of Press and Amy Rodriguez might always be in the limelight for their NWSL and national-team accolades, Stengel has been underrated for the franchise in its inaugural season.
“I thought for the whole game while [Stengel] was on,” Harvey said, “she was very, very good.”
Stengel put comfortable distance between the Royals the Sky Blue FC four minutes later as she finished a powerful header off a free kick by Gorry. After cementing the 3-0 lead, Stengel sprinted toward the throne of Leo the Lion and fittingly took a seat in celebration.
“I saw that throne the first RSL game I went to,” Stengel said. “I said if I ever score, I have to go sit in that throne.”
Sky Blue eventually settled in and didn’t allow the Royals to run rampant as they did in the first half. U.S. national teamer Carli Lloyd put Sky Blue on the scoreboard in the 62nd minute, finishing off a deflected shot from outside the box.