Sandy • After a sizzling start to the season, the Utah Royals left Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday with a bad taste in their mouths.
The Royals (3-1-0) dropped their first game of the season in a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dash (3-1-1). In one fell swoop, the Dash leapfrogged the Royals in the National Women’s Soccer League standings and beat them for the first time in four meetings going back to last season.
Utah, meanwhile, was scored on for the first time this season after starting with three consecutive shutouts.
Losing didn’t sit well with the Royals. Forward Amy Rodriguez, who provided Utah’s goal, said she couldn’t exactly pinpoint what went wrong.
“We were our own worst enemy today,” Rodriguez said. “I felt like we took our foot off the gas pedal. We didn’t keep taking it to them. We’ve had a lot of bite these last few games and today I don’t think we brought it.”
Royals coach Laura Harvey said “there was only one team in it” through the first 25-30 minutes of play. Rodriguez scored her goal in the 29th off a through-ball pass from midfielder Vero Boquete. But after that, Utah had something of a letdown — not playing fast enough, not making the same types of passes.
“From the 30-minute mark on, we just dropped our standard,” Harvey said. “You can’t do that in this league. It’s unforgiving.”
Rodriguez was particularly perturbed at the loss, saying that she took it personally and the team will have to improve next weekend, when it faces the defending champion North Carolina Courage.
“We’re all just pissed right now,” Rodriguez said.
After Rodriguez’s goal — her second of the season — Dash forward Rachel Daly scored twice to give her team the 2-1 victory. The first came in the 42nd minute, when she took advantage of Samantha Johnson’s inability to control a long ball and finished a wide-open shot.
Not long after halftime, Daly received a floated pass from Ari Romero into open space and again beat Royals keeper Nicole Barnhart with a shot to the far post.
Harvey said she discussed the team’s lack of urgency at halftime. But the message didn’t get through.
“It didn’t change in the second half,” Harvey said. “We didn’t re-up our tempo. So we need to think about that. We need to look at that, as to why we didn’t do that. Was it movement, was it decision, was it quality? Probably all of the above.”
Midfielder Mandy Laddish, who made her first start of the season after coming off the bench the first three games, said Houston forced Utah to play more slowly with the way it defended and allowed the Royals to possess the ball as much as they wanted.
“I don’t think Houston was parking the bus, but I think that they were sitting back a little bit and letting us have it [the ball],” Laddish said. “And then when you have that space but don’t have really easy, obvious options in the midfield, it slows the pace down a lot.”
Daly received a red card in the 90th minute for an apparent thrown elbow away from the ball.