3 takeaways from the Utah Royals’ win over Sky Blue

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta (9) and Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) run to Utah Royals FC forward Christen Press (23) to celebrate her first goal as Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (1) reacts to Press' first goal as the Utah Royals FC host Sky Blue FC, August 7, 2019 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Here are three takeaways from the Utah Royals FC’s 3-0 win over Sky Blue FC

1. No timeline for Kelly O’Hara’s return

Two of three Royals from the United States Women’s National Team were back in the lineup against Sky Blue after returning from the Women’s World Cup championship victory tour. But while Becky Sauerbrunn and Christen Press both started and put in impactful shifts at their positions, one name was conspicuously off the lineup sheet: Kelly O’Hara.

That’s because O’Hara hurt her left ankle during the victory tour. She was seen after the game in the hallway of Rio Tinto Stadium with a walking boot on that leg. When asked about O’Hara’s status postgame, coach Laura Harvey said there is no timeline for her return.

“We’re taking really strong precaution right now to try and minimize any longterm impact,” Harvey said.

With Utah in the middle of a stretch in which it plays four games in two weeks, Harvey said it “might be difficult” for O’Hara to return for any of those games. But the goal is trying to get her back at the tail end of that stretch, Harvey said.

Without O’Hara, that position for the past two games has gone to Mallory Weber, whose natural position is as a midfielder. The other outside back on the roster who has started games this season is Michelle Maemone, but she has recently been out of the rotation.

2. A brief sigh of relief

Before Wednesday’s win, the Royals hadn’t picked up three points from an opponent in 54 days. Coincidentally, it was June 15 against Sky Blue. Since then, Utah has been trying to figure out how to get back to its winning form, but to no avail.

But the Royals finally broke through. They scored three goals for just the second time in franchise history, record a clean sheet and moved up in the National Women’s Soccer League standings.

Lo’eau LaBonta said after the game that “everybody has been on one” since the team’s loss to Chicago, each player trying to push those around them to be better. Harvey said the team had a long meeting after that particular loss, something it doesn’t normally do. The magnitude of a loss against Sky Blue was clearly on the minds of the Royals.

“Anything less than three points tonight, the entire organization was going to be disappointed,” LaBonta said in an on-field postgame interview.

The Royals were all smiles after Wednesday’s win, though. And with just a few days in between games, they have the opportunity to ride some momentum into Seattle.

3. Jonsdottir comes off the bench for the first time in URFC career

Harvey has been trying to get her players to create more chances in recent weeks. And in the previous three games, it was happening, but they weren’t finishing at the clip required to win those games. To top it off, the Royals were also giving up goals left and right.

Against Sky Blue, Harvey opted to make a big change: She sat Gunnhildur Jonsdottir to start the game, and replaced her with the more offensively minded Katie Stengel. Harvey said that with the way Sky Blue plays, she didn’t feel having both Jonsdottir and Desiree Scott — both have primality defensive responsibilities — on the field at the same time was necessary.

But Harvey knew she would need Jonsdottir to close out the game, she said.

LaBonta said Jonsdottir were supportive throughout the game and as helpful as she could be.

"Everybody gets upset when they don’t start, especially for her to start every single game,” LaBonta said. “A lot of people when they start and then all of the sudden don’t start a game — they’re down, they’re on the bench, they’re sulking — but Gunny was great.”

It’s unclear whether Harvey will continue bringing Jonsdottir off the bench in favor of a more attack-minded group. But for at least one night, that move worked like a charm.