A season of highs and lows came to an end last week in Houston as Real Salt Lake Women played their final regular season match to a 4-3 loss against the Aces. The defeat put the ladies at a final record of 3-4-1 for the year, good for 10 points and finishing short of the 2016 champions Santa Clarita for a second season. The Blue Heat will represent the United Women’s Soccer West Conference in the playoffs again, claiming a second conference title with two matches still to play.
RSLW had many reasons to be optimistic about 2017. Head coach Mark Davis was returning from a very successful first season, and several core players were back from the previous year, including forward Colette Smith who returned following the birth of her first child. Additionally, RSLW saw several players from both the University of Utah and Utah Valley University join the roster, making up for those from BYU who did not return this season.
All the training leading up to the first match went well, and spirits were high on opening day until the surprise loss to newcomers So Cal Crush FC. That 2-0 loss made hopes of a conference win a little dimmer with only 8 total matches to earn points. RSLW bounced back strongly with a 3-0 win against Calgary Foothills, and a 5-0 win on the road against the Crush, but they would receive their second loss of the season at the back end of a two-day road trip where they fell 1-0 to Santa Clarita.
An impressive comeback win by a score of 4-2 against Houston followed that loss, and then the team’s first trip to Canada resulted in a scoreless draw that left RSLW needing two wins in their last two matches, and some losses by other teams, to have a chance at the playoffs. The season would end with another close 1-0 loss to Santa Clarita, this time at home, and then the aforementioned loss to Houston, which was 4-0 for the hosts at halftime and nearly saw RSLW pull off another amazing comeback.
Several players had very impressive seasons for the team. Colette Smith not only returned from pregnancy, but looked very impressive in playing all 8 matches, using her speed and tenacity in the attacking third to chase down balls and put pressure on the opponent’s goal. Utah standout Hailey Skolmoski put in a tremendous year, also playing all 8 matches while leading the team in scoring with 4 goals and adding an assist. Defender and co-captain Natalie Norris was the heart of the defense, working tirelessly to maintain a solid shape and stop most dangerous looks from the other teams. Goalkeeper Becca Ritchie had another amazing season between the sticks, tallying 40 saves across the 8 matches while allowing only 10 goals.
Though the season didn’t end the way everyone hoped, there were still a lot of positives to take away, and much to be excited about for 2018. Though the ultimate composition of the roster is hard to predict in a semi-pro league, the team will potentially return many of the same players, who can build some consistency and familiarity going into next year. The team will also hopefully be moving their home matches to the new stadium in Herriman, sharing the field with Real Monarchs and providing a consistent home field for supporters to create a solid environment around.
On a related note, the women’s players will be part of a halftime ceremony during tomorrow’s Real Monarchs vs OKC Energy match at Rio Tinto Stadium, and will be signing autographs after the match. It’s a great opportunity to support the best team in USL, and meet the women’s team as well.