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Utah Royals FC on Loan: A W-League Recap

Nearly a third of the Utah Royals FC roster have spent the last few months in Australia. How did they do?

W-League Rd 13 - Western Sydney v Perth Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images

The W-League season is over.

Didn’t wake up at 2AM with me to watch the games on ESPN+? Yeah, I don’t blame you. I gave up after the first few weeks and watched the games I could on rewind anyways. Heading into a World Cup year, with plenty of other disruptions and the ever-present opportunity for injuries to strike, depth will play an incredible role in the second campaign for Utah Royals FC, and it just so happens that a good portion of our depth is already 90 minutes fit. Since October, six of our players have been battling against one another, other NWSL loanees, and a plethora of Australian natives down under in aim to win one of the most prestigious and competitive women’s football competitions in the world.

As the season has wound to an end, let’s take a look at the table, and then the individual performances of Samantha Johnson, Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir, Katie Stengel, Rachel Corsie, Lo’eau Labonta, Sydney Miramontez, and former midfielder Katrina Gorry.

2019 Westfield W League Table
W League

Johnson of the Melbourne Victory was the only player who made it into the playoffs, and impressively at the top of the table as well. Be sure to watch her and her teammates battle for a place in the final against Sam Kerr and Perth Glory FC at 8PM this Saturday on ESPN+. The remainder of the Royals were scattered out across the bottom half of the table between 6th and 9th place. Don’t let these “sub-optimal” finishes deter you from thinking positively about the upcoming NWSL season. Those returning to Utah will be in prime condition physically after their stay in Australia and will be even hungrier for a better finish with the Utah Royals in 2019.

Samantha Johnson - Melbourne Victory

W-League Rd 4 - Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images

In her third season with the Melbourne Victory, Johnson helped guide the Victory to their first top place regular season finish with 24 points. Being the only foreigner on an Australian backline, Melbourne Victory tied for first with the league’s other Melbourne club defensively conceding only 15 goals and also tying for first with a record four clean sheets. Johnson played 11 out of 12 possible games, starting in and going the full 90 in each of them.

Throughout the season, she was a consistent presence in the backline, winning 70% of her tackles, clearing the ball 42 times, blocking 6 shots, and snagging 18 interceptions. Averaging 43 passes a game, she was an effective passer completing 72.6% of the 478 passes that she attempted. That stated, there was a strong discrepancy in the accuracy of her passes depending upon where she was on the field. On her own side, she reached her intended target 83% of the time, although on the attacking half of the field, this percentage was almost cut in half at 47%.

Given the positives, there are a few stark negatives which stand out during Sam Johnson’s time in the League. First, she only won 1 out of every 5 aerial duels, although she was much more consistent winning just over 50% of non-aerial duels. Second, she owns second place in the league grabbing 4 yellow cards in just 11 matches although she did only concede a foul a game.

Overall, it was a great trip to Australia for Johnson, and winning the regular season with the post-season cup still to play will give her plenty of confidence headed into a NWSL season where she will be expected to play a major role on the backline with Beck Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’hara, Rachel Corsie, and Katie Bowen on international duty for the World Cup.

Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir - Adelaide United

W-League Rd 4 - Adelaide v Canberra Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images

Gunny was a mainstay in the midfield for Utah Royals FC last year, and after a solid season in Australia, she will undoubtedly play an important part in it again. Over the course of 11 games, all of which she started and played the full 90, she lined up as the deepest dropping center midfielder in a 4-3-3 throughout most of the season, although slotting in at the left of center midfield and even as an attacking midfielder in a couple of games. The highlights of Gunny’s season was undoubtedly her 2 assists, 7 key passes, and landing the game-winning header in the last game of the season to secure Adelaide a 6th place finish.

Gunny finished 8th overall in the league in terms of pass completions, just ahead of NWSL teammate Rachel Corsie and just behind Adelaide teammate and Houston Dash loanee Amber Brooks. She hit her target 406 times out of 557 attempts, going good for 73%.

With a similar temperament, as we saw in Utah’s inaugural season, Gunny drew a lot of fouls, 19, while conceding 13, none of which were cards. Moreover, and in typical Gunny-fashion, she intercepted 37 passes, won 114 duels, successfully won 22 of 35 attempted tackles and made a respectable 17 clearances.

While she put in the work defensively and was a valuable contributor in distributing the ball, her work on goal was rather dismal. Out of 11 shots, she only put 3 on target, one of which was the header below, giving her 9% conversion rate as she put only 27% on target. Granted, not a huge sample size.

Look for her to bring her explosive energy and enthusiasm as she anchors the midfield again this year and maybe score a goal or two.

Katie Stengel - Newcastle Jets

W-League Rd 5 - Newcastle v Brisbane Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images

Katie Stengel was the golden boot runner up in last year’s W-League campaign, and after winning Utah’s golden boot last season, all the pundits, including us, picked her to be in the running for winning it this year. She was on track to do just that until an unfortunate low-grade stress fracture in her foot saw her return to Utah midway through the season after 540 minutes in 6 games. Through the first half of the season she took 19 shots, put 8 of those on target, and bagged 3 goals (2 with her left foot and 1 with her right) as well as landed two assists. In doing so, she was far and away the most lethal Royals player on loan.

While her job being a striker was not to pass the ball, when she did, she shone as bright as her tan with 77% of her 174 pass attempts reaching her intended teammate. Moreover, 16 of her 134 passes completed led to one of her teammates taking a shot at the goal. Something, which while percentage wise is low, statistically is not bad in the slightest.

There is a question to be asked as to what role Katie Stengel will play this upcoming year with Christen Press having more time to settle into Laura Harvey’s system and the addition of Verónica Boquete likely providing competition for her spot, but we have no doubt that Katie Stengel will return stronger and with more fervor than ever, heading into the Utah Royals second campaign where she will undoubtedly be 100% come March. Last season was no fluke, and the Florida native will be competing for a scoring title at home in gold, mark my words.

Round 7 | Newcastle Jets Katie Stengel's brace

Newcastle Jets Katie Stengel recorded her first brace of the season with these first half #GOALS in Round 7⃣⚽️ ️

Posted by Westfield W-League on Monday, December 17, 2018

Rachel Corsie - Canberra United

W-League Rd 12 - Canberra v Melbourne Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images

In her first time down under, Rachel Corsie had arguably the best trip to Australia in terms of on -field performance of any Utah Royals player. Like many of her teammates on loan, she, too, started 11 games and played the full 90 minutes in each. Moreover, she owned the captain’s armband throughout the season and was awarded the most valuable player for the Canberra club.

In terms of performance specifics, Corsie was a fantastic passer of the ball completing the 9th most amount of passes in the league and doing so at a whooping 83.1%, the highest of any Royals player, and among the top in the league. In the Canberra’s back side of the field, her passing percentage rose even higher to 90%. While not an offensive threat, not that you would expect her to be as a centerback, the Scot did make 5 key passes, take 8 shots, and dish out an assist.

On the defensive end, Corsie was consistent and caliber. She recorded 61 clearances, 5 blocks and 18 interceptions, which are all solid numbers. Adding to that evidence, she had a 77% success rate on tackles and won 66% and 67.6% of her duels and aerial duels, respectively. In addendum, while Canberra as a club led the league in yellow cards, only one of those cards belonged to Corsie. All in all, the agressive centerback only had 6 fouls and won a free kick 9 separate times.

During her time in Australia, we were fortunate to be able to chat with Corsie about her time in Canberra among other things. If you missed it, you can find it here. She will undoubtedly play a crucial role yet again this year lined up next to Becky Sauerbrunn as one of the best centerback pairings in the league. We can also look forward to cheering her on this year as she captains the Scottish National Team in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France this summer.

Lo’eau Labonta - Western Sydney Wanderers

W-League Rd 1 - Western Sydney v Sydney Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Lo Labonta is a fan favorite anywhere you go in Western Sydney. That’s well indicated by the sheer amount of promos that she is in. While a true leader of her club, she was definitely not the playmaking threat that I thought she had the potential to be falling below expectations. The Wanderers struggled. They had a goal differential of -19, bagging 11 goals and conceding 30. Overall, they finished bottom of the table with 4 points coming from a single tie and a single win with ten losses. It would be inaccurate to put the majority of the blame on Labonta, and while she herself wasn’t extraordinary, the overall groups performance made it hard to be the playmaker that she was positioned to be.

Labonta played the lowest amount of minutes out of all of her Royals teammates with the exception of Katie Stengel. She missed games 3, 4, and 5 for an unknown reason, but started in all 9 of the games she played, totaling 756 minutes. The Wanderers typically lined up in a 4-4-2. More often than not, Labonta played a center right role, although she moved to the left on occasion. In one game, she took the role of a CDM when the team rolled out in a 4-2-2-2. This is particularly interesting, because even though the CDM is not her best position, it is indicative that Laura Harvey could slot her in there if needed, albeit extremely unlikely.

Offensively, Labonta landed 4 of her 10 crosses and made 11 passes which led to a shot. She also snagged an assist, but her goal drought continues. That said, she did take 17 shots, 6 of which she put on target. The midfield is where Lo played her best and the girl from Rancho Cucamonga smashed it in some areas although fell short in others. She won 20 of 24 tackles, good for a fantastic 83% and moved the ball to her teammates at a rate of 76%. On the other hand, she cleared the ball once, blocked 0 shots, and lost well over half of her areal duels.

Regardless of the positives and negatives of her W-League performance, Lo will move from being a fan favorite in one continent to a fan favorite on another continent shortly. Look for her to break into a competitive starting spot which has become even more competitive with Mandy Laddish and Makenzy Doniak returning from injury in the attacking and center midfield as the Royals embark on a trip around the NWSL for a second time.

Sydney Miramontez - Western Sydney Wanderers

W-League Rd 6 - Western Sydney v Canberra Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

The Kansas native was the last loanee announced to be going down to Australia. In her first trip to the Cumberland Plain, she would play every position across the back 4. Starting at centerback the first few games, moving the right back for the majority of the season, and rounding out the last couple games at left back. Unfortunately, that back line would be the leakiest in the league, conceding 30 goals in 12 games without holding a single clean sheet. One of the goals was an own-goal scored by Miramontez as it bounced off her and into the net off a corner kick. Moreover, she completed a mere 66% of her passes and won only 37.5% of her aerial duels.

Given the negatives, there were a fair share of great things from the 24-year-old. She made 32 clearances, blocked 8 shots, nabbed 22 interceptions, and only conceded 2 fouls. An impressive feat spread across 990 minutes. She also hinted at having a promising attacking ability if it can grow to fruition. Running up and down the flanks, she successfully completed a multitude of crosses, created 8 shots for her teammates, and took 5 shots herself, three of which she put on target. Moreover, she did a really awesome event for White Ribbon Australia, which will be included below.

While performance on the field for Sydney and the Wanderers was average at best, there are many important lessons learned that she can surely walk away with. Being one of the youngest players on the Utah Royals roster, she got plenty of valuable experience playing 990 minutes in 11 starts. This experience will serve her well as she steps into a more prominent role when Katie Bowen, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Rachel Corsie are all gone from the backline for the World Cup. Moreover, she is an exciting prospect to take over the reigns defensively over the next few years as Becca Moros and Sauerbrunn enter their mid-thirties. Then again, given her attacking ability and the fact that she snagged 52 goals and 52 assists in high school, it may be time for a position change. We shall see.

Katrina ‘Mini’ Gorry - Brisbane Roar

W-League Rd 1 - Brisbane v Perth Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

While it is almost certain that Katrina Gorry will not be returning to the Utah Royals this season, once a royal, always a royal, and her performance for her hometown Brisbane Roar is worth looking at. Unfortunately, her season ended early with a ruptured syndesmosis after only 5 games. In the 449 minutes that she played, she won 2/3rds of her tackles, half of her aerial duels, completed 77% of her passes, averaged an incredible 3 key passes per game, and earned a red card. Despite leaving Utah, we wish nothing but the best for her and hopefully she has a steady recovery from a painful injury and continues to hold an important role in the Australian National Team.