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Utah Royals lose in penalties to Houston Dash

Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune Houston Dash goalkeeeper Jane Campbell (1) makes the game-winning penalty kick save during their match against the Utah Royals FC at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, UT on Friday, July 17, 2020.

Herriman • One of these games was not like the other. Zero goals in 90 minutes must have been a bother. But in the end, just one left for summer.

The Houston Dash advanced to the semifinal round of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup with a 3-2 penalty shootout win over the Utah Royals FC. Houston will play Portland next week after the Thorns earlier in the day upset the North Carolina Courage, which hadn’t lost in the tournament before Friday morning.

Houston 0, Utah Royals FC 0 (Houston 3-2 PKs)

• Utah Royals FC bounced out of tournament by way of penalty kicks

• Neither Utah or Houston scored in regulation after drawing 3-3 earlier in the tournament

• Kelley O’Hara made her first and only start of the tournament

The Dash prevailed by way of penalty kicks after Utah and Houston played to a scoreless tie in regulation. Challenge Cup rules dictate that games ending in a tie will go straight to penalty kicks rather than having the normal 30 minutes of overtime.

“It’s unfortunate to go down like that,” Royals forward Amy Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez missed the first PK for Utah, and Sophie Schmidt made hers. Lo’eau LaBonta tied it at 1-1, but Shea Groom and Rachel Daly both scored theirs. Royals goalkeeper Abby Smith came up with a big save that allowed rookie Tziarra King to cut the lead by a goal.

Rodriguez took responsibility for the loss after her penalty attempt hit the crossbar.

“I wish it would’ve gone in,” Rodriguez said.

Veronica Boquete’s attempt was stopped by Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell, sealing the victory for the Dash.

The game was decidedly different than the first team Utah and Houston played each other in the Challenge Cup. They opened the tournament with an exciting 3-3 draw that saw the Royals come back from a two-goal deficit late to earn the tie.

But Friday’s matchup was much more defensive. The Dash didn’t record a shot on goal until the 57th minute. Smith, earning her fourth start of the tournament, made a diving save to prevent a goal in the lower right corner by Brianna Visalli.

Mallory Weber got off most of Utah’s shots on goal. One came late in the second half off a good pass in the box by Rodriguez. Weber’s shot from just a few yards away, however, was saved by Campbell.

Utah coach Craig Harrington said it was a big week for the team defensively after giving up late goals in two consecutive games. He was pleased with the team on that side of the field after focusing on it in training.

“I think we saw the fruit of that today, that work put in,” Harrington said. “We were very solid and limited them to very little.”

The game got chippy and opened up near the end, particularly in stoppage time as both teams fought for the last-gasp goal. Houston seemed to have more possession in the final third late in the game. Several fouls and yellow cards were given out, including three to Royals players in the last 13 minutes.

But neither team was able to score in regulation.

Rodriguez said the message to the team before the penalty kicks started was win or lose, the players on the team “love each other” and “have each other’s backs.”

“I really felt that tonight on the field during the first 90 and even through the PKs,” Rodriguez said.

Kelley O’Hara started her first game of the tournament and subbed out at halftime. She played short stint in the previous game after missing the first three with an injury. She was presumably healthy enough to play in the third game of the tournament, but did not enter.

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