Here are three takeaways from the Utah Royals FC’s 3-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage.
1. Royals got lucky (for the moment) with the Reign FC result
Utah did not play well on Saturday, and that was evident in the scoreline. But it turned out that wasn’t the result that mattered.
The Reign, which Utah was supposed to play last Wednesday before the game was postponed, faced the lowly Sky Blue FC about 45 minutes after the Royals-Courage game started. So by the time Utah lost, there was still a half or so to play between the Reign and Sky Blue.
At that time, the Reign had overtaken Utah in the live standings because the game was a scoreless tie. That is until Sky Blue scored and hung on to win the game. The Reign and Royals remained tied in points in the NWSL standings, bringing Utah back to the fourth and final playoff spot. The Reign moved back to fifth.
On Wednesday, Utah and the Reign will play their rescheduled game. And if fans thought that game was important last week, it’s probably 10 times more important now. The winner of that match could decide which team makes the playoffs.
“It’s a must-win,” defender Mallory Weber said.
The good news is the Royals have already spent last week game planning for the Reign. So other than tweaking what needs to be modified on their end, they may be able to focus a bit more on rest and recovery with a short turnaround instead of spending time and energy on what the Reign do on the field.
2. Nicole Barnhart had her worst game of the season
What a difference a week makes.
Against Houston, a game that resulted in a 2-1 loss for Utah, the two goals given up weren’t necessarily on Barnhart, even though it was recorded that way on the stat sheet. But against the Courage, two of her mistakes led directly to goals.
On the first, detailed in the video below, she let a ball that wasn’t a shot, but a cross, float into the goal just past her fingertips. It’s hard to tell whether she mistimed her jump or reacted a split second too late, but that’s a ball that has to be caught. But it wasn’t. Coach Laura Harvey called the sequence “one very uncharacteristic mistake.”
On the third goal, Barnhart passed a ball to a defender in an effort to play out of the back. But there wasn’t enough force on the pass, and no defender came to quickly meet the ball. What resulted was a turnover and a goal that Barnhart apparently did not try to stop. That could be chalked up to a miscommunication or lack of urgency, but it started with Barnhart.
Harvey said many times, Barnhart has been “phenomenal” for the Royals, and she’s right. Barnhart has 10 clean sheets on the season, which is the most in the league. But on Saturday, she had a really bad night.
“The greatest things about people like Barnhart is that she straightaway says, ‘My bad,’” Harvey said. “Obviously, we’ll review it and try to help her to make sure it doesn’t happen again."
3. Christen Press feeling affects of nagging injury
Press was listed as “doubtful” to play against the Reign last Wednesday. Because the game was postponed, however, that gave her more time to recover. Before facing North Carolina, her status was upgraded to “questionable,” and she played more than 85 minutes.
But Press seemed to have a rough game. Aside from her one shot on goal, there were moments where she could not beat her defender in the same manner to which she is accustomed. That could be due to her nagging leg injury, which has caused her to miss more training sessions recently.
“She’s not been able to be fully involved in everything, and I think you saw a little bit of that tonight,” Harvey said. “We took her off at the end, because we have three games in one week and with the little niggle that she’s had, it just got it a point where giving her a five-minute breather at the end would be beneficial.”
Press’ injury doesn’t seem serious. She still played nearly the whole game. But she is one of the most important players for the Royals, and they’re going to need her as close to full health as possible if they want to make the playoffs.