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Tactical Preview: Utah Royals FC vs Portland Thorns

Can the Royals make the tactical adjustments necessary to get the first win in franchise history against the defending NWSL champions?

Trask Smith

Through their first four games of the season, Utah Royals FC have shown flashes of a really good team and have showed steady progress at being that team for larger stretches during the match. Last week, they nearly came away with an away victory against league leaders NC Courage before conceding an unlucky late equalizer and settling for a draw. What can the Royals do this week to earn their first win in franchise history? Let’s talk tactics!

Utah Royals FC

Four games into the season, we are starting to get an idea of how Laura Harvey expects her side to perform. She expects them to have possession with purpose, not just simple possession. While this possession thus far has not translated to a high number of scoring opportunities per game, it has begun to create quality scoring opportunities for the Royals. Last week, URFC took four shots the entire game, but all four shots were on frame and two of those shots resulted in goals. It might not make for the most exciting soccer ever played, but it is definitely effective soccer. I expect the Royals to continue developing their attack in this manner in today’s game against the Thorns.

Another thing that the Royals do well is defend. Despite conceding two goals last week, URFC limited NC Courage to only 10 shots the entire game, which is the fewest shots they have taken in any game this year and less than half of their season average. The Royals will be happy with that statistic, but frustrated that they still conceded two goals despite performing well defensively. My belief is that the defense this week will be focused on not only limiting the opponents shots, but doing more to make the shots they do take more difficult.

Portland Thorns

The Thorns come to Utah for the first time boasting a 2-1-1 record good for 7 points and 3rd place in the league. In the four games they have played so far in 2018, they have scored 6 goals, led by four goals from attacking forward Christine Sinclair.

The Thorns play in the less commonly used 3-4-3 formation, though often it can look more like a 3-5-2, with Sinclair orchestrating the attack. According to NWSL and Opta Statistics, five of Portland’s six goals have come from inside the box (3 run of play and 2 penalty kicks). A lot of their attacking chances come from good interplay inside the box. It will take a lot of concentration and good defensive effort from the Royals to prevent Portland from getting good scoring opportunities.

Injury Report

Utah Royals FC

OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – D45), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI)

QUESTIONABLE: None

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Portland Thorns FC

OUT: Adrianna Franch (right meniscus tear), Bella Geist (left quad strain), Emily Menges (right tibia stress syndrome), Meg Morris (left hip pain), Hayley Raso (left knee sprain)

QUESTIONABLE: None

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Expected Lineup (via NWSLSoccer.com)

GK: Smith

DEF: O’Hara, Corsie, Sauerbrunn, Miramontez

MID: Bowen, Scott

MID: Ratcliffe, Jonsdottir, Matheson

ST: Stengel

Royals’ keys to the match

  1. Continue to create quality scoring chances. The Royals will be content to be outshot by the opposition as long as the chances they are creating are quality and lead to goals.
  2. Defend the interplay in the box from the Thorns. If URFC can control Christine Sinclair’s effect on the match, they will have a much greater chance of winning today’s game.