Utah Royals lose 2-0 to OL Reign to wrap up a strange 2020 season

(Photo courtesy of Utah Royals FC) The Utah Royals, guided by interim coach Amy LePeilbet, right, finished their season with a 2-0 loss to the OL Reign on Saturday night in Tacoma, Wash.

A difficult game was the send-off to a difficult season.

Utah Royals FC was dispatched 2-0 by OL Reign on Saturday night in Tacoma, Wash., to end a tumultuous, disappointing, and change-filled campaign for the team, which never really was able to get a rhythm going all year long.

The difference between the clubs was clear from the word go, even though the Reign have struggled in recent matches this season. After a stretch of significant pressure, the Reign’s Sofia Huerta scored the game’s first goal on a lung-busting counterattacking run. After combining with Shirley Cruz in her own half to free the ball from the Royals’ pressure, the Reign had a 4-on-2 counterattack headed toward Utah’s goal. Cruz led Huerta on the right side, where her high-powered shot found the space between Royals goalkeeper Abby Smith’s legs in the 24th minute.

It was just one of 15 shots the Reign, well, rained down on the Royals in the first half, including five on target. Utah looked quite sloppy in possession, giving the ball away to the OL Reign time and time again to get dangerous chances.

“I think first half, honestly, we just let them outmuscle us,” Royals interim coach Amy LePeilbet said. “It was a physical battle at the start. They pushed us around a little bit and we were OK with it.”

A second goal came early in the second half. In the 51st minute Leah Pruitt found herself with the ball at the top of the Royals 18-yard box after a loose touch from a teammate. Pruitt creatively looped her shot over Smith, down under the crossbar, and into the net.

Sandy native Michele Vasconcelos made her Royals debut in the 66th minute, coming in for Brittany Ratcliffe. Vasconcelos was acquired by the Royals from the Chicago Red Stars in September for $55,000 in allocation money.

And maybe it was no coincidence that Utah’s best string of play came after the substitution, when the Royals created three relatively strong chances for themselves. The best was when Vasconcelos found her way beyond the Reign’s defense on a darting run, but couldn’t slot it past the onrushing Reign goalkeeper, Casey Murphy.

“We finally decided to make the choice to start playing, start connecting, start building up the field, playing at speed at a high tempo,” LePeilbet said.

But the Reign’s total domination — a 23-10 shot advantage, 8-2 advantage in corners, and 24-6 advantage in crosses begins to tell the story — never seriously allowed the Royals a chance in the contest.

The result means that Utah went winless in the 2020 Fall Series, drawing two, losing two. Given where the Royals were as an organization — losing key players like Christen Press, while head coach Craig Harrington was forced to step aside — the stretch of games was always going to be mostly about looking forward to the 2021 season.

“I think just with all the chaos going on within the organization, I’ve been really impressed with the girls, and the unity that we’ve displayed and the positivity,” Vasconcelos said. “If we can bring this group in next year and have that same energy and then just kind of clean up the soccer a little bit, I think we’re going to be really good.”

Team captain Amy Rodriguez agreed.

“We’re looking forward to a refresh with all the changes going on — on the field, off the field and around the organization,” Rodriguez said. “I’m confident that the Royals organization will will be on their front foot soon and steamrolling ahead like we should be.”