Need a winning goal? Find Katie Stengel.
In a match many around the squad called a “must-win,” Stengel stepped to the forefront in the final 20 minutes to score a winner, keeping the Utah Royals in the NWSL playoff hunt with a 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night. It was her second winning goal in four days, having found the net against the Houston Dash in the 83rd minute on Sunday.
“I’m surrounded by players who have this mentality that we have to win every game,” Stengel said. “We have to give it everything we have, and people are stepping up in the biggest ways.”
Stengel came to the rescue of a Utah side that was having trouble finding the net. Utah outshot Washington 18-3 overall, with eight Royals shots on goal.
“We’ve won, but we’re frustrated because we could have won it by a lot more,” Royals coach Laura Harvey said.
But the lack of goals couldn’t be chalked up to a lack of effort from Harvey, who played her attacking cards in the starting lineup. Stengel, traditionally a striker, played on the wing, giving Amy Rodriguez room to attack centrally. Midseason acquisition Christen Press started in central midfield, while Erika Tymrak was in the starting lineup opposite Stengel. It was nearly all of the Royals’ attacking options in one unit.
“They’ve been playing a back three recently. We sort of gambled that they would do it again, and they did,” said Harvey of Washington. “The gamble was that we might leave ourselves a bit exposed at the back, but I felt we dealt with that okay.”
It was substitutes Taylor Lytle and Diana Matheson who ended up finding Stengel on the goal. On her first assist of the season, and in only her sixth match, Lytle played a ball to Matheson, who was aware of Stengel behind her and dummied the ball through her legs to allow Stengel to twist and fire in the right-footed shot.
Stengel leads the Royals on the season with five goals, three more than anyone else.
The win was crucial to the Royals’ playoff chances. The Royals are tied for fifth in the NWSL with Chicago and are one point out of the fourth and final playoff spot, currently held by the Portland Thorns. The Royals have played one more match than Portland, and two more than Chicago. The Royals would also lose head-to-head tiebreakers with either squad.
The Royals’ remaining schedule, though, is considerably more favorable. The Royals have two matches left against Washington and Sky Blue FC, teams that have a combined 2-27-8 record. The Royals play again on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Seattle.