If you’re going to lose your first road game at the start of a long trip, you might as well follow it up with your first road win. Though it should be their third of the season, Utah Royals FC earned a much needed three points against Sky Blue FC on Saturday night. What did we learn from the match?
Lucky or good?
The opening goal scored by Diana Matheson was beautiful, and nearly a mirror image of the one she set up to Gunny Jònsdòttir for the team’s first goal in Orlando. It was a fantastic sequence and a great start to a match on the road.
They gave away the lead just a few minutes later and then slogged through the rest of the game until a late cross forced an own goal. It wasn’t the best performance we’ve seen, on a field that looked like the ball was rolling very slowly, but they managed enough to get the win and we’ll take it.
A new keeper, new captain
Though it is only a temporary change, Nicole Barnhart took over both the starting goalkeeper and team captain spots in the absence of Abby Smith and Becky Sauerbrunn. Though she had a few shaky moments at the beginning of the match, including getting beat by Shea Groom’s equalizer early on, the veteran and NWSL shutouts leader put in a solid 90 minutes for her first competitive match in quite a while.
Strength in (international) numbers
Including the three that were missing from this match, URFC is sending a league-high nine internationals to play for their countries during this break. It’s not a coincidence that some of the best plays on the night came from those players, with Gunny, Scott, and Matheson having fantastic nights, while Thorsnes and Corsie also played well. Though several of them have a lot of travel back and forth to Europe ahead of them, the elevated level of play in World Cup qualifying should keep them sharp as they prepare to make a second trip to North Carolina and look to take down the league leaders. They were close last time, and the team has improved since that first meeting.