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Gotta get that win: Utah Royals FC @ Washington Spirit

What can URFC do to pull out a much-needed win and keep their playoff hopes alive?

Nikita Taparia

With just two games left in the regular season, and with five teams all fighting it out for the last two slots in the 2018 NWSL playoffs, every point matters. Tonight, Utah Royals FC take on the Washington Spirit desperately needing a win and three points to keep their playoff hopes alive. What can the Royals do to get the win and stay in the mix for the final playoff berths? And what response will we see from an already-eliminated Washington Spirit side whose coach was just fired? Let’s take a look!

Utah Royals FC

Heading out on this road trip, URFC probably thought that they had a good chance of getting 6 points against the two teams at the bottom of the league table. But Sky Blue FC gave them everything they could handle on Saturday night, forcing the Royals to rely on a late game strike from forward Amy Rodriguez to scrape out a draw against a team that hasn’t won a game all season. Hopefully that reality check will help the Royals players come into this game more prepared and ready to take care of business.

Tactically, we saw Laura Harvey switch to a less familiar 4-3-3 formation in this game, and to be honest, it showed. The team was not as connected as they should have been and quickly found themselves in an 0-2 hole before finding a way to play themselves back into the game and ultimately earn the draw.

Because of that performance, I would be pretty surprised to see Laura trot out the 4-3-3 again. I expect it’s much more likely that we will see URFC come out in either the 4-2-3-1 they have played for much of the season or the 4-4-2 we have seen them play on occasion since Christen Press joined the squad. With no game to be played this weekend, I would not at all be surprised to see most of the same starters from Saturday’s game start in this game as well. I do think that we will see a couple of tactical changes, including Scott or Gorry coming in for Labonta and perhaps Kelley O’Hara returning to the side in place of Erika Tymrak. Only time will tell for sure on that one, but it’s definitely something for Royals fans to keep an eye on.

As far as play goes, the Royals are going to have to stay sharp and pass the ball well. Despite the fact that Washington has gone 0-5-0 in their last five games, they are not a team that is just going come out and lay down for you. If the Royals want three points from this game, they are going to have to come out and earn them the hard way.

Washington Spirit

The Washington Spirit come into this game as a team in flux after news was released yesterday that head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra had parted ways with the team. Spirit assistant coach Tom Torres has been appointed the interim head coach for this game, so it will be interesting to see if he is able to rally the team together and get them to perform, or if their struggle-filled season will continue. It’s difficult to speculate too much regarding what we might see from the Spirit in this game, just because of the unique situation the team is in right now. For URFC, it is going to be key for them to play their game, and not try to play reactively to whatever Washington shows on the pitch.

The best news for the Royals is that Washington is the worst goalscoring team in the league, having scored just 11 goals in 21 games. The first and most important goal for the Royals is to keep the Spirit off the scoreboard, and then find a way to score themselves.

Injury Update (via NWSLSoccer.com)

Utah Royals FC

OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – SEI), Makenzy Doniak (left knee ACL tear – SEI), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI)

QUESTIONABLE: Kelley O’Hara (right hamstring strain)

Washington Spirit

OUT: Estefania Banini (right MCL sprain), Tori Huster (left heel bruise), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Tiffany Weimer (left knee Baker’s cyst – D45), Kelsey Wys (right knee meniscus scope)

QUESTIONABLE: Francisca Ordega (left foot contusion)

Expected Lineup

GK: Barnhart

DF: Bowen, Corsie, Sauerbrunn, Moros

MF: Matheson, Scott, Jonsdottier, Gorry

FW: Press, Rodriquez

Royals’ keys to the match

  1. Keep the shutout against the worst offensive team in the league. Too many times this season, the Royals have conceded the first goal of the game and have had to find a way to play themselves back into the match. Keeping the shutout will lessen this pressure significantly.
  2. Find a way to score and win. It doesn’t have to be a blowout. It doesn’t even have to be a pretty goal, but if the Royals want any chance to play playoff soccer in the 2018 season, they have to find a way to win this game and get the full three points.