Sandy • In 100 degree temperatures, Utah Royals tried to keep their 100 percent winning record in a 3-games-in-7-days stretch on Saturday afternoon.
But it wasn’t to be. A headed goal by Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock in 48th minute gave the Reign a 1-0 win and makes a NWSL playoff berth a harder goal to attain for the Royals.
Throughout the match, the Royals struggled to create solid offensive chances. Utah took six shots, only two of which were on target. But the Reign had more success with their attack, led by U.S. national team star Megan Rapinoe.
It was Rapinoe’s pressure that led to the game’s winning goal. After Royals captain Becky Sauerbrunn was forced to clear the ball behind her own goal, the Reign had a corner kick. While Utah cleared the first cross, Seattle’s Megan Oyster found the ball in plenty of space and delivered a perfect ball to the back post, which Fishlock headed home.
“The fact that the ball traveled to Oyster and she had three touches before putting in the cross is my concern,” Royals coach Laura Harvey said.
Christen Press started in her preferred forward role in Saturday’s match, but the Royals struggled to give her looks on goal until the game’s final five minutes.
“It was nice to have my position on the field,” Press said. “But in terms of getting in sync with the rest of the players, it was brand new. My tendencies and habits and stuff, they haven’t seen that.”
That changed when Amy Rodriguez came on the field as a substitute, and Utah attacked far more effectively in the game’s final 10 minutes. That included an open chance for Press that she sent wide in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
“My frustration is that the game plan that we had, we didn’t execute until the last five minutes,” Harvey said. “If we had done it previously to that, I felt we would have caused them more problems.”
The heat and low air quality played a part in the match. There were hydration breaks during the match because of the temperatures, and oxygen was made available to players on the sidelines.
“I think both teams felt it. The game was slower than normal, and the defending from both teams was different because of it,” Harvey said. “I felt we managed it well … but it was really tough out there today.”
Saturday’s loss means the Royals have a mountain to climb to make it into the NWSL playoffs. With three games remaining and currently in sixth in the standings, the Royals will need help in order to make it in to the top four.
“We have three more games left in the season, and we need three wins," Press said.