It was only eight days ago that the Utah Royals FC were at a loss as to how they could finish all the chances they were creating. It was only eight days ago they were trying to figure out how to stop conceding two goals to opponent after opponent after opponent.
Now, in the span of four days, the Royals have scored six goals, won back-to-back games and, most importantly, moved to within two points of the fourth and final playoff spot in the National Women’s Soccer League standings.
Katie Stengel, Lo’eau LaBonta and Amy Rodriguez each scored unassisted goals in a 3-1 road win Sunday afternoon over the Seattle Reign in front of 5,939 fans. The Royals improved to 7-6-3 on the season and climbed to fifth place in the NWSL, while the Reign remained in fourth.
“I think the team is finally getting their chemistry and we’re just working the ball constantly, so it’s not just getting our forwards to shoot, it’s getting our top five able to get on goal," LaBonta said. "I think if we just keep working on that and our chemistry it’s gonna keep getting better.”
LaBonta gave the Royals the lead for good in the 59th minute. She dribbled up the center of the field and scooted past every Seattle defender in her way. LaBonta then touched the ball past Reign goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who had just dove to the ground.
LaBonta celebrated by pantomiming hitting a baseball out of the park for a home run.
Rodriguez gave Utah some breathing room eight minutes later with the help of Stengel. It wasn’t an assist, but rather Stengel’s shot saved by Murphy that rebounded right into Rodriguez’s path for her to put away. That goal gave the Royals their 3-1 advantage.
Stengel scored the opening goal of the game in the third minute simply by being in the right place at the right time. Rodriguez dribbled through two Reign defenders and took a shot. The ball pinged off the right post, then off Stengel’s chest into the goal. Stengel was standing near the left post as the ball just happened to find its way toward her.
Save for a couple of opportunities on build-ups, the Royals didn’t do much going forward after Stengel’s early goal. But that changed a few minutes into the second half. Utah attempted four shots, three of which came from Christen Press, before LaBonta put away the go-ahead goal.
“We had a game plan that we were sticking to in the first half, but it wasn’t working the way we wanted it to,” Harvey said. "We stuck with the same game plan in the second half, but we just tweaked a few things to make it more difficult for them in certain areas and I felt that that enabled us to get Amy and Christen and Stengel and Vero in the areas that we wanted to get them into.”
The Reign found an equalizer in the 41st minute. A ball floated into the box was pinged around before Shea Groom rifled a right-footed shot into the back of the net. A few Royals defenders were in the area, but Groom beat them all to the loose ball.
The Royals entered the game seventh in the National Women’s Soccer League standings.