Okay, this is not where we thought we’d be three matches into the season.
Still, there’s a talented roster and a world-class manager, and plenty of time to turn things around. Let’s take a look at North Carolina Courage vs Utah Royals FC ahead of Saturday’s away match.
This is the Royals third road trip in the first four weeks of play ahead of a stretch of four in a row at home. On top of that, this one represents the toughest challenge so far this season, facing off against the table-leading Courage. This is a team that won the 2016 NWSL Championship while still playing as the Western New York Flash, made it to the final last season against Portland, and then felt comfortable enough with their roster and the addition of Crystal Dunn that they could trade 2017 Rookie of the Year Ashley Hatch to Washington. In the Royals favor is that the Courage will have played mid-week against second-place Seattle, picking up a 1-0 victory, which might lead to some tired legs and roster rotation for Saturday.
Looking for answers
Three matches in and only two points to show for it, this Royals team is looking for answers. The defense has been solid, as was expected when looking at the roster on paper, but the offense has yet to show its potential. The majority of the danger comes from Diana Matheson and Gunny Jónsdóttir combining on slicing through the back line, but the left side of the attack and the center forwards have yet to cause opponents any worry.
The midfield has also struggled to hold possession and make strong connections moving forward, relying too often on passing back to the defense rather than pushing up the field. Utah is boasting the highest passing numbers in the league but needs to make them count for something in order to generate chances.
Making a statement
Though it’s still early in the season, the team needs to start capitalizing on everything it is capable of sooner rather than later. Though teams have made late pushes to earn a playoff spot and even contend for the title, the Royals need to start putting the pieces together before the rest of the league runs away from them. Despite the thoughts of many who consider Utah a bottom of the table team, the quality of the roster is too high to end up there at the end of the season.
A shortened preseason to accommodate the CONCACAF Women’s Championship this fall, combined with the most international players in the league, have challenged Laura Harvey as she seeks to build chemistry and find the right combinations of players. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be able to figure it out; it’s just a matter of getting the players on the same page. The team should take some motivation from the disappointment of dropping their first home game to battle for points this week before enjoying a long stretch at home.
When: Saturday, April 21st, 1:30 PM MT
Where: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park — Cary, NC
Weather: Mostly Sunny, 60 degrees
Broadcast: Lifetime, 100.7 FM
Referee: Jon Freemon