In the final game of the 2018 NWSL regular season, Utah Royals FC closed the final home game against the very same team they faced for their home opener back in April, the Chicago Red Stars. This time, Chicago brought NWSL leading goalscorer Sam Kerr.
The Royals were a different team from that home opener, with the addition of Christen Press, who joined the team via trade back in June, playing against her former team. Kelley O’Hara also returned to the starting 11 since May, making her first appearance at Rio Tinto Stadium since suffering a hamstring injury. It was the first time that Laura Harvey was able to utilize an attacking line with O’Hara, Amy Rodriguez, and Press leading the way.
Despite a front line with three U.S. Women National Team members, the Royals had a difficult time creating a chance to score to take the lead, and it was Chicago who struck first with a Sam Kerr header in the 39th minute.
Going into halftime, it was starting to feel like déjà vu from the previous two games against Chicago, where the Red Stars ended up winning, and why Sam Kerr and company are headed to the postseason instead of the Royals.
In the second half, Utah began to look better in the final third. Taylor Lytle, who subbed in for O’Hara in the 46th minute, and Katie Bowen provided a boost from the flanks for the attacking forwards. In the 55th minute, the Royals were able to equalize with a goal from Amy Rodriguez, her 5th goal of the season and third in three games.
Press, with time near the top of the box, decided to pass back to Bowen. The New Zealand international then sent the ball to Rodriguez, who was left wide open for a shot. The ball bounced off the post for the equalizer.
In the 64th minute, in a series of passes between Rodriguez, Becca Moros, and Lytle, Utah took the lead. With pressure from the Chicago offense mounting, Lytle sent the final pass towards the box where Katie Stengel was making a run. Stengel connected with the ball, heading it in for the leading goal, her sixth of the 2018 season, making her the club’s leading goalscorer for the year.
And in front of 11,851 in attendance for the final home game, the second highest of the season, it was the type of win the Royals needed to close the 2018 campaign, especially against the very team who ended their playoff hopes last Tuesday and ruined the home opener party in April.
The Royals were able to close the season on a high note: “Good luck in the playoffs, Chicago.
Utah Royals FC.”