The opening match of the 2017 United Women’s Soccer for Real Salt Lake Women had almost everything you could want from a soccer match. The weather at kickoff was sunny and clear with a slight breeze, the field at Utah Valley University was in great condition, and RSL came out strong but ended up on the wrong side of the 2-0 final score against So Cal Crush.
The ladies in Claret-and-Cobalt (okay, they were wearing their black kits) came out strong to start the match, controlling possession through the first 10 minutes. The passing wasn’t as sharp as it could have been to start, but the defense was well organized by keeper Becca Ritchie and team co-captain Natalie Norris in the center, so most giveaways were quickly dealt with.
RSL got its first scoring chance in the 12th minute off a lovely pass out of the midfield that played forward Jessica Vanderveur in behind the defense. She got her head up and chipped the rush of Crush keeper Adrianda Maldonado, but her shot hit the right post and was cleared out of the box. RSL kept the pressure up and continued to get shots off, but either had them blocked or saved by Maldonado, including a nice look by Wesley Hamblin in the 24th minute.
In the 38th minute a misplayed ball near mid-field ended up with Crush FC’s Nancy Avesyan, who had been impressing with her speed all night, and quickly countered to draw the defense before sliding a pass to Hailey James for a wide-open finish past Ritchie and the 1-0 lead. RSL nearly equalized a few moments later as Vanderveur beat her marker again and took a shot from the right that turned into a cross that no one was at the far post to meet.
RSL came out looking hungry to level the score in the second half, and created a few good looks early on, many of which were again either blocked or saved by the Crush. In the 69th minute substitute midfielder Kira Sharp started a lovely sequence of passes from the left side that gave Hamblin the ball near the top of the box. She dribbled to her right beating a defender and rounding Maldonado, but saw her shot on the empty goal cleared off the line by the timely arrival of a Crush defender.
So Cal would get their insurance goal in the 82nd minute when another turnover gave Jordan Schultz the ball, and her pass to Janelle McGee sprung the Crush substitute forward past the defense where she slotted home the 2-0 advantage for the visitors. A flurry of late chances for RSL trying to get on the score sheet came close several times, but just didn’t have the luck in slipping past the defenders.
Overall the team performance was solid, if not excellent. The biggest struggle on offense seemed to be making the pass just before the final ball, and making more accurate crosses. Defensively the team marked up well against the Crush, but could have put more pressure on the 50/50 balls to keep possession away from the visitors.
RSL Women are back in action on Friday, May 26 as the other new West Conference team, Calgary Foothills, comes to play their first match of the young season. Kickoff is at 7:00 PM MDT at Davis High School in Kaysville, UT.