Laura Harvey returned to Portland again last Friday with Utah Royals FC, the second trip of the 2018 regular season to the Rose City and third game overall against Portland. The last time Utah faced Portland at Providence Park, the Royals lost 2-0 on May 25. It was a game that exposed the Royals defense for the first time in 2018 and showed that Utah was a work in progress.
Utah quickly recovered from the loss and continued its four-game road trip, picking up wins at Sky Blue FC and North Carolina Courage, ending the Courage’s impressive undefeated streak. They returned to the RioT for two home games and earned four points before heading on the road again, and the first stop on the Pacific Northwest trip was Providence Park.
Utah falls to Portland, again
There was hope that with the addition of Christen Press, who came to the Royals via a trade on June 18, and a much-improved offense from the previous two games, that this would be a game Utah would challenge Portland. It turned out to be a game that Portland dominated, as Utah conceded three goals in the first half and a final one in the second half. And just like that, the Royals suffered their worst defeat of the season, falling to Portland Thorns FC 4-0.
Much went wrong for the Royals in this game. The offense looked disjointed, and the defense could not handle Portland’s pressure. Utah rarely could build from the back, and after giving up a goal in the first two minutes, the Royals appeared to lose momentum, and they never recovered.
Harvey loses in Portland, again
Head coach Laura Harvey took responsibility for the loss, and that is a mark of a great coach. It’s not the first time that a Harvey-led team struggles in Portland, though. Historically, winning at Providence Park has proved to be a challenge for Harvey.
Coming into Friday’s game, Harvey’s record at Providence Park during the regular season was 2-5-2. As head coach of Seattle Reign FC, she also lost the NWSL Championship to FC Kansas City in 2015, which was held at Providence Park. Harvey’s regular season record at Providence Park is now is 2-6-2.
Why can’t Harvey win at Providence Park?
Without a doubt, Providence Park is the best NWSL stadium, as far as atmosphere goes. Every home is a near sellout, and this past Friday, the attendance at Providence Park was 17,930. Portland simply has a unique environment with their large and noisy crowds, add an artificial surface and the team’s physical style of play, and Providence Park is a fortress.
But the atmosphere alone or the playing surface cannot be the main reason for Harvey’s struggles in Portland. For five years, Harvey led Seattle in the Cascadia Rivalry against Portland, which have been some of the fiercest on the pitch battles in the NWSL. Harvey’s Reign won six, lost seven, and drew three games in the five years that Harvey coached Seattle, and four of those losses were at Providence Park. Harvey only won two of those games at Portland.
So, why does Harvey keep losing at Providence Park?
“Harvey is a really good coach at some things, but a super tactical/technical style she doesn’t do, and Parsons knows he can play to her weaknesses,” NWSL Media member RJ Allen said.
It all comes down to tactics that have failed Harvey at Providence Park, and it showed on Friday night. The Royals did not create chances in the final third, lost possession, and did not defend well against Portland. The Thorns were the better team and easily outplayed Utah.
Thankfully, it’s not the end of the season, and this one bad loss can either inspire Utah to get better and work on the issues they saw in Portland or completely break down as a team. We can trust that Harvey has learned from her two losses in Providence Park this year, and she does not have to return to Portland this season, unless Utah reaches the NWSL Championship in September, which will held at....yes, Providence Park.