Four days ago, we witnessed history. We watched as Kelley O’Hara and Diana Matheson each scored a goal en route to a 2-0 win over the Washington Spirit, the first victory in franchise history. Now, on a short week with a quick turnaround, we are set to see the Royals take the field again in an effort to continue their winning ways. What will we see in tonight’s match-up against the Orlando Pride? Here are a few thoughts.
Utah Royals FC
In the tactical preview that I wrote prior to the game against Washington, I talked about how URFC needed to do a better job completing passes. They definitely did that against the Spirit. Prior to that game, the Royals were averaging 72.5% passing completion accuracy with 58.6% passing completion accuracy in the opposition’s half. After that game, URFC’s season averages jumped to 72.8% passing completion and 59.4% passing completion accuracy in the opposition’s half.
In a single game, Utah Royals FC increased their passing completion average by 0.3% and their passing completion average in the opposition’s half by 0.8%. Now I am definitely not a math major, so I can’t break down exactly what that means for a single game performance, but I think those numbers correlate with what we all saw in the Royals’ play on Saturday; They looked like a much more cohesive attacking team.
The real test will be to see if the Royals can duplicate their performance from Saturday against a more difficult opponent that is also more rested. Orlando last played a week ago, while URFC played just four days ago. How do tired legs affect the team? Will we see some squad rotation from Laura Harvey, or will she go with the same starting 11 in hopes to begin to establish some consistency? My money is on the latter, but only time will tell for sure.
One advantage that we will have is altitude. Rio Tinto Stadium sits at an altitude of 4,500 feet of elevation, while Orlando City Stadium sits at an altitude of approximately 82 feet above sea level. Our players train at this elevation every day and will be much more prepared to handle its effects. This should roughly level the playing field with our tired legs.
Since taking advantage of a referee handout to secure a draw with Utah Royals FC in the season opener, Orlando has compiled a 2-2-2 overall record, good for eight points and 5th place in the NWSL table, just one place and one point above the Royals. Through their six games so far, they have scored six goals and conceded six goals, which is very comparable to the Royals stat line of six goals scored and five goals allowed.
Where have their goals come from? Two goals have come from five-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Marta, and three goals have come from British-born, American-raised former Arsenal Ladies forward Chioma Ubogagu. They typically line up together with USWNT forwards Sydney Leroux or Alex Morgan to form a very dangerous attacking front three. The Royals defense did a great job of limiting their opportunities in the first match-up of the season, and they will definitely have their work cut out for them again.
The biggest thing that I noticed when going through all of the different statistics provided by the NWSL is how even Orlando and URFC seem to be. In a lot of the statistics, they are right next to each other on the lists ranking all of the teams in the league, with Orlando having the slight edge in some, and the Royals claiming position over the Pride in others. I also believe that they play with similar playing styles and tactical focuses, which typically make for an exciting match. It also means that whichever team executes their game plan better will likely come out on top.
Injury Report (via NWSLSoccer.com)
Utah Royals FC
OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – D45), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI), Elise Thorsnes (left hamstring strain)
OUT: Camila (right knee surgery – D45)
QUESTIONABLE: Monica (left adductor strain)
DEF: Moros, Sauerbrunn, Corsie, Elby
MID: Scott, Jonsdottir
MID O’Hara, Gorry, Matheson
Royals’ keys to the match
- Keep up the improvements. It would seem like Laura Harvey’s team has turned a corner and is starting to gel. They are also getting more comfortable with each other and playing styles, which helps them to anticipate each other’s movements as they work within Harvey’s system. As good as the Royals looked Saturday, there is still plenty of room for improvement, and I believe our ladies are focused on bringing those improvements to the pitch for all of us to see.
- Know where the goals come from and deny those players opportunities. So far, the Utah Royals FC defense has been good. They react well and they communicate well. Becky Sauerbrunn will have her back line prepared for this game, and they will do everything they can do deny good opportunities to Orlando’s goal scorers. Another shutout at home will be their goal, and they have the talent and ability to make it a reality.