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URFC Stock Report #1 (Washington - Orlando - Chicago)

Surprising stars shining through a perfect three.

Three games into the season. Three wins. Three goals. Three clean-sheets. Only more goals could make a more perfect start for the Utah Royals.

In this beat, after every three or four games, we’ll be looking at some of the stand out players, as well as the underperformers for that section of games. Let’s take a gander at the first three games of the season at Washington (H) Orlando (A) and Chicago (H)

UP: Michelle Maemone

If you had told me a month ago that a rookie selected late in the draft, much more a rookie who wasn’t on many people’s draft boards would start the first three games of the season, I would have laughed in your face. And not just laughed, I probably would have laughed hysterically and called you an idiot. Here we are, and the rookie out of Pepperdine has played 195 minutes and assisted in three separate clean sheets. Injuries to Becca Moros, Sydney Miramontez and the decision to play it safe with Kelley O’Hara in preparation for the World Cup, have obviously created the conditions, but it is Michelle Maemone who decided to take it upon herself and step up. She’s had a few bad moments including landing a risky tackle, committing a few fouls, and picking up a yellow card, but all in all, she has far exceeded every expectation we as fans have set for her and proven that she has what it takes to play in this league for a long time. To encapsulate her rise to the occasion in one word, it would be this from Scott Parkinson...

UP: Mandy Laddish

Mandy Laddish did not play a competitive game of soccer for two years and seven months. Let me say that again. Two years and seven months, over 950 days. The mental determination and toughness it must have taken to stick with things alone is enough to win an award.

Mandy Laddish is not a good player.

Mandy Laddish is a great player.

Mandy Laddish at her best is a borderline United States Women’s National Team kind of player.

While it is unknown whether she will return to the brilliance of pre-injury, the 39 minutes of her that we have seen in two substitution appearances against Washington and Orlando respectively seem to indicate good things. So far she is completing 84% of her passes, 100% of her tackle attempts, and has nabbed two interceptions. With the departure of Desiree Scott to the Canadian National Team, it is the perfect time for Mandy to show what she has got, and I predict her to take a starting role in Utah’s midfield.

Plenty of folks have documented Mandy’s return to the professional world of Soccer. Here is the latest Rise Up To Royalty video from the club as well as a one on one interview on Katie Stengel’s podcast and an excellent article from Alex Vejar of the Salt Lake Tribune.

UP: Nicole Barnhart

Barnie has aged like a fresh brownie which has been out of the oven long enough that it’s no longer at peak savory, but is still really damn good, fresh, and not yet cold. NWSL stats indicate that she only has 8 saves on the year, but it sure feels like it’s been a lot more than that. Regardless, the 37-year-old legend who recently became the first goalkeeper to play over 10,000 minutes in the league has three clean sheets on the year. It feels silly and cliche to quote my own tweet, but this simply feels right.

She’s also up for Save of the Week again. Get on folks.

UP: Lo’eau Labonta

I did not know where Lo Labonta fit on this team. Last year, she went large chunks of the season without playing. She wasn’t a fantastic passer; she never really solidified a position; she neither scored nor assisted, and frankly, she underperformed in the W-League during one-on-one battles that she should have dominated and finished on a team bottom of the table. Despite being an incredible person and a great teammate, I simply did not know where she fit on this roster. Now I do. She’s a starter. Injuries to Taylor Lytle and Diana Matheson certainly helped, but she has carved out a space for herself and in doing so has been incredibly complementary to the work of Christen Press opening up space on the wing including sending in a banger in the first few minutes of the season opener.

The next few weeks will be trying as players return from injury and Laura Harvey tinkers lineups to different game plans. But several good performances have established a confident base for the 26-year-old, and she seeks to cement her role as a starter.

UP: Desiree Scott

This is a hot take. Desiree Scott has been the best player on this team through three games and has released an incredible amount of pressure on the backline. She is called The Destroyer for a reason, and in her path of destruction, she has won an astonishing 83% of her tackles, made 7 interceptions, cleared the ball 6 times, has been successful in 66% of her duels, completed 83% of her passes, and impressively is finding her target on the longball 7 out of 10 times. Over the years, she has consistently been one of the best midfielders in the world,” and despite turning 32 in the upcoming summer is maintaining that she still is.

UP: Christen Press

Last year, I wrote this and was torn apart by the diehards.

Christen Press is an incredible player, but if we are being frank, she hasn’t been the catalyst which would change the Royals season that many of us thought that she would be. While she has managed to score a goal within the last three games, she has blown multiple scoring opportunities and has overlooked wide open teammates in the final third in favor of taking on a defender one-on-one. Perhaps it is that we, as a fanbase, have put too much pressure and consequently high expectations on the Palos Verdes native. Regardless, based upon the latest press conference it is evident that Christen knows that she is playing below her own personal expectations. Look for her to go on a tear in these final three must-win games.

I stand by those words. I stand by those words 100%, and this year proves that I am right. After acclimating to Utah, building chemistry with her teammates, and more time with the Laura Harvey system, Christen Press has been on literal fire. If last year we saw Christen Press executing at 70% of her best due to a variety of unfamiliarities, we are now seeing the true player that Christen Press is. It is energetic; it is exhilarating; it is skill; it is beautiful, and we are lucky to be able to witness it.

DOWN: Injuries

A while back Matt wrote;

“a ‘down’ rating doesn’t always mean that a player isn’t performing. In these cases, injuries for each player are keeping them from leveling out.”

That’s pretty much exactly where I am going with this.

Injuries have been a problem since pre-season, and the more players filter out to their respective countries World Cup training camps, the faster our bus accelerates towards struggle city. Out of a roster of 25, having 7 removed from contention due to injury is not a good sign.

This is especially true for a defense that will already be missing three of four starters to the World Cup in Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Corsie, Katie Bowen, and while her role so far has been as a substitute, Kelley O’Hara.

Other defenders out include the young talent Sydney Miramontez, veteran Becca Moros, and the rookie Maddie Nolf. If defensive injuries don’t improve in the next week, the backline for games at the end of the month could very well look like Samantha Johnson and three rookies in Michelle Maemone, Gaby Vincent and former defender turned forward Alexandra Kimball.

Other injuries include Brittany Ratcliffe who will miss the entirety of the season with an ACL tear, Taylor Lytle who is reliant on a scooter for transportation, as well as Makenzy Doniak and Diana Matheson who hopefully will be fit in time to make the roster for what will likely be her last World Cup with Canada.

DOWN: Abby Smith

It is not that Abby Smith has been bad, - she is still a young goalkeeper with lots of promise -. it is simply that she has lost her spot. Some pundits have indicated that this is a make or break year for Abby Smith. I don’t think that could be further from the truth. Last year, Nicole Barnhart was returning from an injury coming into the season. This year, she’s the healthiest a 37-year-old could possibly be. In a world without Hope Solo, Abby Smith is currently sitting behind the USWNT starting goalkeeper for two World Cup cycles, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.