With the ‘curse’ broken, Katie Stengel is rounding into form just in time for Utah Royals FC

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals host Orlando Pride at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Wednesday May 9, 2018. Utah Royals FC forward Katie Stengel (24) leaps over Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris (24).

Sandy • It took a little luck for Katie Stengel to finally break what she called a “curse.”

Stengel, a forward for the Utah Royals FC, had played every game this season without scoring a goal. By contrast, Stengel was the team’s leading scorer in 2018 with six goals.

But for 15 games, she just couldn’t get one to find the back of the net. In the draw against the Portland Thorns a few weeks ago, she had more than one good opportunity to finish, but came away empty. Since then, she’s played some of her best soccer of the season, but the only thing missing was the goal.

Then it finally happened — by accident.

A shot by Amy Rodriguez during Utah’s win over Seattle hit the post, found Stengel’s left thigh, and bounced into the goal. It was almost like coach Laura Harvey spoke the goal into existence after telling The Salt Lake Tribune just days prior that Stengel needed a goal to “just hit her in the face and go in so she doesn’t have to think about it.”

But Stengel couldn’t care less how it happened.

“It was amazing,” Stengel said this week. “I don’t care how cheap it was. I couldn’t buy a goal before, so I’ll take it and move forward.”

Stengel’s season has been up and down. She suffered a stress fracture during training while with an Australian W-League team, and that injury ended up keeping her out about four months instead of the initial four-week timeline.

Although she’s played every game for the Royals in 2019, Stengel’s minutes and starting appearances have been inconsistent. But in the past month, she’s played better and even looked to be in better shape, Harvey said.

Stengel has started the last two games in Harvey’s effort to put more attack-minded players on the field. Both those games have been victories for the Royals, and both those games have resulted in the team scoring three goals — the highest output of any two-game stretch in franchise history.

The sample size is small, but Harvey has liked the way the team has played with Stengel as a starter in place of midfielder Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, who has been called upon to finish games defensively.

“Over the last two games I think our performances have been very, very good,” Harvey said. “I think that bringing Gunny on late in games, she just can solidify the result that’s happening at that moment in time, which is even more satisfying for what we want to be.”

Stengel likes her new role, too. She said that throughout the season, it’s been a struggle finding minutes and starting nods due to the combination of her getting back to fitness and how talented Utah’s roster is, making competition for spots very high on a week-to-week basis.

Lately, Stengel has been impacting the game without scoring. But the goal against the Reign definitely helped with that as well.

“It’s not just about scoring goals for her,” Harvey said. “It’s about everything else with her game. But I think scoring goals gives her that confidence to push on.”

Harvey said Stengel needed that first goal to get herself going. And now that she got that first one off her back, Stengel wants more.

“As long as we have somebody scoring and we’re getting results, it’s alright,” Stengel said. “But I think as a forward, midfielder, I should always want to score. So I think personally, I would love to score more … and help lead us to getting more results.”


At Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida

Kickoff » Saturday, 5:30 p.m.


Radio » ESPN 700

Last meeting » URFC 2, Orlando 0 (May 25, Rio Tinto Stadium)

Records » URFC 7-6-3, Orlando 3-10-2

About Orlando » Winners of two of their last four games. … Sits at the bottom the league standings. … Lowest goal differential in the league at minus-16. … Marta Vieira da Silva will serve the first of a two-game suspension. ... Midfielder Emily van Egmond will undergo season-ending ankle surgery, the club announced Thursday.

About URFC » Royals have won two consecutive games. … Scored six goals in previous two games. … Amy Rodriguez leads team with seven goals. … Nicole Barnhart leads NWSL with seven shutouts. … In the midst of three consecutive road games.