Here are three takeaways from the Utah Royals FC’s 3-1 victory over the Seattle Reign.
1. All of a sudden, the Royals can’t stop scoring
Last season, one of the biggest knocks on URFC was its struggles putting the ball into the back of the net. And for much of 2019, the same story line has permeated throughout the season.
But after another three-goal performance in consecutive weeks, the Royals have, for the moment, morphed into a scoring machine. Last week, two of the team’s three goals were assisted, but all of them were created with good build-up and passing. On Sunday, two of the three goals were scored off rebounds.
These last two performances coincide with a meeting coach Laura Harvey had with her three attacking players — Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez and Veronica Boquete — as well as a decision to start Katie Stengel in place of Gunnhildur Jonsdottir. With so few games remaining in the season, Harvey wanted to jumpstart the goal-scoring in any way she could.
So far, those two decisions seem to be working, even to the point that players are scoring goals almost on accident, like Stengel’s in the third minute.
The Royals simply picked the perfect time to start scoring goals. Sunday was the first time this season they went up by two goals on the road. And with two more left before returning to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium, this performance should give Utah heaps of confidence.
2. Stengel finally got one, and Harvey is clairvoyant
Stengel led the Royals in scoring last year with six goals. In 2019, she hadn’t scored once before Sunday against the Seattle Reign.
Stengel did start the season with an injury that lingered, which may be the reason her season has seemed so topsy-turvy so far. But in recent weeks, she has exhibited visible improvement in her overall game.
Harvey said recently that Stengel has gotten close to the level of fitness she had last season, but just hasn’t been able to find that first goal.
“She just can’t buy a goal,” Harvey said. “I think she needs one of those goals that just hit her in the face and go in so she doesn’t have to think about it, and that would probably kick her on a little bit.”
The ball didn’t hit Stengel in the face Sunday, but it did hit her in the thigh and go in. It’s safe to assume Stengel and the Royals will take that.
3. Lo’eau LaBonta knows how to celebrate goals
As a midfielder, it’s not LaBonta’s main job to end up on the stat sheet at the end of games. It happens, occasionally, like it did in the opening game of the season where she scored Utah’s only goal in a victory.
LaBonta’s second goal of the season, also a game-winner, came Sunday. And boy did she milk it for all it was worth. After she dribbled unimpeded and put away the team’s second goal, she traded her soccer boots for baseball cleats and pretended to hit a home run. She even put her hand on her forehead as if she was blocking the sun to see the flight of her imaginary baseball.
LaBonta didn’t have time to celebrate her first goal all those months ago because she was immediately swarmed by her teammates. But if she scores another before the season ends, her celebration should be one keep an eye out for.