3 Takeaways from the scoreless draw between Utah Royals FC and Portland Thorns

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC hosts Washington Spirit, NWSL soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Wed. Aug. 8, 2018. Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) tries to get past Washington Spirit midfielder Tori Huster (23), losing part of her shoe, during the first half of the game.

Three thoughts on Friday’s game between the Utah Royals FC and the Portland Thorns, which ended in a scoreless draw.

1. Double-teaming Amy Rodriguez

Coming into the game, Thorns coach Mark Parsons said just two words when asked what worried him most about the Royals: “Amy Rodriguez.”

He wasn’t wrong. Rodriguez had scored in five of her last six games and led Utah with five goals on the season. She’s become as close to an automatic goal scorer as a soccer player can possibly get.

Parsons’ solution to that problem was to give Rodriguez absolutely no room to operate. No airspace whatsoever. Thorns defenders were frequently double-teaming her when her Royals teammates played her the ball, like the screenshot below, in which two Thonrs players are converging on Rodriguez as the ball floats in her direction.

Two Portland Thorns defenders converge on Amy Rodriguez as the ball is played to her.

The plan worked like a charm. Rodriguez didn’t record a single shot on the stat sheet on Friday. When she did get touches, they weren’t in a position on the field that would make Portland nervous.

The concern for Utah, if there is one, is Portland may have just shown the rest of the league how to neutralize Rodriguez.

2. Samantha Johnson: Breaker of Wills

The Thorns attackers are going to have nightmares about Johnson — the kind so lucid that it still feels like a dream even after waking up. When a Portland player had eyes for the goal, Johnson was right there to shut them.

There was no better example of this than in the 73rd minute. Tyler Lussi found a streaking Margaret Purce with a long ball up the field, and Purce appeared to only have Royals keeper Nicole Barnhart to beat.

But all of a sudden, Johnson appeared out of nowhere to break up the play. Gaby Vincent then kicked the ball out of bounds.

Johnson was simply everywhere in Utah’s defensive third, providing timely blocks and clearances. Just look at the Opta defensive data for the game.

Samatha Johnson's defense statistics.

3. Royals missed Vero Boquete

One thing Utah had difficulty with throughout the night against Portland was connecting passes through the midfield. Oftentimes, balls would go nowhere and get easily intercepted by the Thorns, who told advantage in transition.

Those are the moments in which Vero Boquete shines. Not only can she pass efficiently, but her creativity and spunkiness adds a whole new dimension to the way the Royals play. But Boquete didn’t play Friday due to a right ankle injury. Erika Tymrak played well in her stead, but she’s not the same type of player as Boquete.

The Royals need Boquete. They can’t afford to have her out for long, especially with how the team already struggles to find consistent offense.

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