Guess who’s back, back again, Utah’s back, tell a friend.
That’s right ladies and gents, Royals fans of all ages. We have finally gotten to watch Utah Royals FC take the pitch, at home to boot, after the all too short NWSL break for the Women’s World Cup.
And what did we see? Well, a 1-0 win, strong defense and for the first time less than 6,000 people in attendance. It was also the only match of the weekend that didn’t end on a draw. In a week when everyone else went home with one point, ending up with all three is huge for Utah.
Let’s cut the chit chat and get into it, shall we?
1-0 déjà vu
1-0 is just where we live now. Utah has built a house on a foundation of 1-0 wins, four of their five wins have come on the back of the 1-0 game. Only the 2-0 win against Orlando, the 0-2 loss to Houston and the 1-1 draw (that let’s face it should have been a 1-0 win) with North Carolina stand out as aberrations from the 1-0 magical spell Utah is weaving on the league.
Having 16 points in 8 matches in a 24 game season is an accomplishment for this team. In a year when national team players of all stripes are gone, Utah has lost their two starting center backs, both of their starting outsides backs along with their starting holding mid and starting striker makes it feel all the more impressive.
Utah has some tough matches coming up. They have to be better at scoring more goals and being able to come back when they are down. But right now if to gather the points needed to make a real run at the playoffs they have to win 1-0, I think we can all live with it. And if Amy Rodriguez wants to keep hitting heart-stopping shots, well I won’t complain.
Barnie being Barnie is awesome
I do not say that a player is the best to ever play a position in the NWSL casually. There is weight to that statement after six and a half years of the roller-coaster ride that is the NWSL’s life cycle. Nicole Barnhart is, unquestionably, the greatest goalkeeper that we’ve seen in the NWSL.
Right now, she is still playing like it and doing it at a time when she has to direct and guide a back line made up of players who, in a non-World Cup year, likely aren’t on that back line. She is walking a tightrope between trying to do too much and having her back line depend too much on her and not doing enough and leaving them hung out to dry. And she has walked that tightrope with expert balance at the same time as she is seemingly beating Father Time up with a large stick.
Five goals allowed in eight games with five clean sheets is more than any team could ask. If Utah can really do the thing this year, it will be done in large part because of the talent Barnhart brings to the team.
World Cup headaches
The World Cup is in the middle of their group stage right now, and the NWSL has made a choice to play games during the tournament. This isn’t Utah’s fault, but it does impact the team, and all the teams when it comes to a few key areas.
I can’t help but think about watching this match with a friend who commented to me, that after watching some World Cup matches, watching this NWSL game felt less important than other NWSL matches they had seen. And honestly, I understand the feeling, especially for casual fans. We’re in the middle of the grandest stage in soccer, but fans of women’s soccer have to put the World Cup down and try to focus back on NWSL games full of players that the casual fans have never heard of. It’s jarring.
I understand the NWSL can’t take off two months in the middle of the season. I do. But in 2020 at the Olympics and in 2023, if there is an NWSL in 2023, they need to find a better way of blending the needs of the league with the reality that playing matches right now and handing out points that 100% will matter at the end of the season might not be the wisest move to be made.
The Most Noble Order of the Lioness
This is my favorite part of the week. The part where I get to put down my critical hat and put on the hat of excitement and joy. And right now the joy I have for how steady Nicole Barnhart has been is matches only but how good the goal by Amy Rodriguez was.
Before we get to the nomination, let’s take a moment to go back over the rules for anyone who might need it. After two nominations, the player is officially granted the status as a Companion in the Order. Anyone winning six over the course of the season will become a Commander of the Order.
For the first time ever, I am placing two players up for nomination. I am nominating both Amy Rodriguez and Nicole Barnhart this week.
I can’t get over Amy Rodriguez’s goal. It was maybe the most beautiful setup and goal I have seen.
At the same time, I can’t deny the incredible work that Nicole Barnhart put in with the backline and guarding the posts. So this week they both get a nomination.
And that means Nicole Barnhart joins Vero Boquete as Companions of the Most Noble Order of the Lioness. Desiree Scott, Christen Press, and Rachel Corsie need one more nomination to officially join the order.