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ORL vs URFC: What We Learned

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Lots to take away from the first match in club history

Kelley O’Hara tackles the ball away from Marta during the 1-1 draw between Orlando Pride and Utah Royals FC
Carlos Romero - The Mane Land

We’ve watched, and waited, and then watched some more. Now that the first Utah Royals FC match in history is over, let’s take a look back and see what we know with the first 90 minutes in the books.

The team is ready

While much of the team was held over from Kansas City, the club has integrated a lot of players from outside that core group. Notably, only five of the starters in tonight’s match were FC Kansas City players in 2017. Many people questioned if even a great coach like Laura Harvey could have the team prepared to compete with a short preseason, and with the national team players coming back only two weeks before the season started.

What we saw tonight was a team that looked cohesive and comfortable on the pitch together, and some of the best performances came from those international stars. Gunny Jónsdóttir scored the first goal in team history 3 minutes in off a cross from Diana Matheson, Elise Thorsnes and Katie Bowen gave the Orlando defense plenty of trouble all night, and Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn showed how their experience as U.S. National Team players gives them confidence and comfort in the back. All things considered, this team looks ready to be competitive from day one, though the coaches and players likely will still see room for improvement.

The team is versatile

There is often a lot of flexibility in women’s soccer, with players being capable of performing well in multiple positions on the field. URFC has several players like this who can be deployed numerous ways, and we saw a lot of it tonight.

Thorsnes is used to being a center forward but started on the left wing tonight. Katie Bowen has played midfield at the club level but is a center back for New Zealand. Kelley O’Hara used to be one of America’s most dangerous attacking threats and is now one of the best full-backs in the world.

When Laura Harvey made a substitution late in the match to bring defender Sydney Miramontez in for starting forward Brittany Ratcliffe, she shifted true #9 Katie Stengel into her natural position as a striker and moved O’Hara to the left wing. For every player, the team has that has one position they stay in, they have many more who can fill in all over the field, and that’s a good thing.

Nobody knows what a handball is

There was hope, for about 20 minutes, that PRO referees somehow have things figured out when they do NWSL matches. Then a ball hit Becky Sauerbrunn in the face, and Marta scored the equalizer on the ensuing penalty kick that was called. There may be a camera angle somewhere that can prove it hit her arm or shoulder as she spun to deflect the shot, but it’s hard not to feel like the officials got this one wrong. The glaring lack of video assist in NWSL makes it hard for us to know, but it seems like someone owes us two points.

Overreactions

These are usually the part of the RSL articles I love the most, so I’ll try a few:

  • Canada and Iceland are going to announce a strategic partnership to take over the world next week.
  • Someone in NWSL is going to get a straight red card next week for deflecting a shot with her foot.