After the lengthy layoff for the international break and the USWNT’s participation in the Tournament of Nations, NWSL action is back! Tonight, URFC are in Houston to take on the Dash in a game with definite playoff implications. What will we see from each team in this important matchup? Let’s take a look!
With 6 games left in the regular season, it’s time for URFC to make their move if they want to make the playoffs in their inaugural season. They currently sit seventh in the league with 22 points from a 5-6-7 overall record. The Royals are currently 7 points out of a playoff spot, but do have a game in hand on current 4th place Orlando Pride, so with a win today they could close that gap to just 4 points with 5 games to play. Needless to say, now is the time for wins! So far this season, the Royals have been able to get 4 points from the Houston Dash. They will hope to continue that positive trend in this game.
The big question on my mind is what exactly will the team on the field look like today? My guess is that we will see a mostly first choice starting 11, put out in a 4-4-2 formation. Fans should be happy to see Becky Sauerbrunn return from injury and play tonight, helping to solidify a back line that has been struggling a little bit in recent games.
The biggest struggle for the Royals continues to be their offense. Of the teams in playoff contention, URFC have by far the lowest amount of goals scored, with just 14 over 18 games. The next lowest goal scoring team in playoff contention? Seattle Reign, who have scored 20 goals. If the Royals want to push for a playoff position, they have to find a way to get their offense going. Connecting in the midfield and creating good scoring opportunities is what is going to get them goals. I think one of the biggest things the the Royals have struggled with is identifying who specifically their #10, creative playmaker is going to be. If they are able to get a creative playmaker to connect the midfield and the forwards then they definitely have the quality players that can score goals.
Houston come into this game in much the same situation that the Royals face in attempting to get into the playoffs. With the Dash just a single point ahead of URFC coming into this game, they are going to see it as just as much of an opportunity as the Royals do.
So far this season, Houston have scored 22 goals, good for 5th in the league, and have conceded 28 goals, which is the second most in the league. Tonight against the Royals, I expect to see them come out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with leading goalscorer Rachel Daly holding down the right wing. She leads the Dash with 7 goals, so she will definitely be the one to watch out for defensively.
Injury Update (via NWSLSoccer.com)
OUT: Kristie Mewis (left ACL sprain – SEI), Meleana Shim (left ankle sprain)
QUESTIONABLE: Kimberly Keever (left knee sprain), Janine Van Wyk (right ankle sprain)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
Utah Royals FC
OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain – SEI), Makenzy Doniak (left knee ACL tear – SEI), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion – SEI), Kelley O’Hara (right hamstring strain)
QUESTIONABLE: Elise Thorsnes (left hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
DF: Bowen, Corsie, Sauerbrunn, Moros
MF: Matheson, Scott, Jonsdottir, Gorry
FW: Press, Rodriguez
Royals’ keys to the match
- Start with the shutout first. With the Royals’ struggles defensively of late, their first focus should be on pitching the shutout on the road. Getting a point on the road is typically always seen as a positive result, and definitely would not hurt URFC’s playoff chances.
- Find a creator for those attacking moments. When the Royals do get forward, they need to have a creative hub to work through and around. Which player will step up and be the creator? If the team can answer this question then we may see a goal or two from them.