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Match Preview: Utah Royals FC vs North Carolina Courage

Utah Royals FC host the NWSL leaders for the first time this season at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Nikita Taparia

After three consecutive losses, Utah Royals FC continue their 2018 NWSL season with another Friday night matchup. Unlike their previous games on a Friday night, in Houston in March and in Portland in May and July, the Royals will get an opportunity to play at home at the RioT. It will be a major game as Utah welcomes league-leading North Carolina Courage for the first time this season.

The final meeting

Friday’s matchup will mark the third and final meeting of the regular season between the two clubs. Utah Royals FC have yet to lose to North Carolina, the league’s number one team. In their first meeting in April, Utah came back from a 1-0 deficit to take the 2-1 lead in the second half before the Courage managed to score their second goal for a draw.

Two months later, a 1-0 win for the Utah side gave North Carolina their first loss this season, and it is still their only loss thus far. Brittany Ratcliffe scored the game-winner in stoppage time, and she also scored a goal in the April meeting. Could she do the same at the RioT tonight?

A must win for Utah

Utah comes into Friday’s game on a three-game losing streak, their longest this season. The season has now reached a point where every game is valuable, especially as five other teams are in the post-season chase. The Royals are currently in sixth place, eight points away from 2nd place and seven points from the 3rd and 4th spots. Without a doubt, this game versus North Carolina is a must win for the Royals. Another loss would hurt their chances to play in the playoffs during their inaugural season.

The good news is that the Royals tend to play well at home, with the exception of two losses including the home opener against Chicago Red Stars and last week versus Orlando Pride. Utah is 3-2-3 at the RioT so far. Tonight’s game continues a home stretch that sees three of the club’s next four games at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The power of the bench

Due to the start of U.S. Women’s National Team camp today in preparation for Tournament of Nations that begins next week, Utah Royals FC will be without Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy Rodriguez, and Christen Press. Starting goalkeeper Abby Smith will also be unable to play due to a concussion she suffered during last week’s game, which means veteran Nicole Barnhart will get her second start of the season and third overall appearance for 2018. Also, Utah Royals FC signed forward Colette Smith and goalkeeper Becca Ritchie as national team replacement players. Both players are part of the Real Salt Lake Women team. Laura Harvey will then have to trust her players, who typically come off the bench in games, to challenge the Courage in this game.

Even though three Utah starters are with the USWNT during such a vital game, North Carolina will also be without six of their starters who will also be with the U.S. National Team. That may just have cut Utah Royals FC a break as the Courage will have to rely on their substitute players as well.

Match details

When: Friday, July 20th, 8:00 PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, UT

Weather: Partly cloudy, 92 degrees

Broadcast: KMYU (local), go90 (national coverage)

Referee: Christina Unkel