We all wondered what Utah Royals FC would look like when the Yanks came marching home, and now we know. Better. They look so much better. But we’ll get in to why later on down the line. For now, let’s just say that having back almost all of the first choice players delivers a much better experience than not.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Not all draws are created equally
Sometimes, a draw does feel balanced. Both teams are about as good, or bad, as the other, and it feels like the right way for a match to end. Other times, it can feel like a loss for one team and a win for the other. Last moment goals often create the feeling of a win or a loss as teams run out of gas with the seconds ticking down to zero.
On Friday, Utah was in the unique position of going from a draw that felt about even, with both Portland and Utah scoring in the first half, to a draw that felt grander than the one point it garnered the team.
A Becky Sauerbrunn own goal in the 87’, we didn’t know it was an own goal at the time, put Portland up with 3 minutes of regulation to go. And the Utah of just a week ago would have let that score stand. They would have buckled as we saw them do in the last two months. Yet this time, with a team that felt more hungry and far more entertaining than in weeks past, they were able to find a way to get the ball from Kelley O’Hara to Rachel Corsie to knot the score at two all.
And while one point at a time when Utah needs more points to move back in the top four is not the best outcome, one point feels miles ahead of what letting an 87’ minute game-winner in would have felt like. There was a hunger in this game, a swagger among not just the returning players but all of the Royals on the pitch that felt like it had been missing since the first few matches this year. And that is worth more than one point or even three.
Christen Press makes magic with a bit of nutmeg on top
Amy Rodriguez has done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of goals this year for Utah. She is a force of chaos in the box and can turn on the jets like few other players, let alone players past 30. But when she is the tip of the spear for the attack, she’s easy enough to contain when teams know she is the primary scorer for the team.
Enter Christen Press. One of Press’ best assists as a player is her speed. Everyone knows about it and very few defenders can match up against her. And Utah’s midfielders know if they can put a ball over the top while Press has some space that magic can be found. And, oh my, was there some magic found at the RioT on Friday night.
Gunny Jónsdóttir put a ball up from just about 10 feet past the half field mark toward the left corner of the pitch. Press got to the ball with time and some space while Portland tried to close in on her. A nutmeg off the defender’s ankle later, and Press managed to find some space between AD Franch and the post to slot in a shot that shouldn’t have been able to find any daylight at all.
Having Press back takes pressure off Rodriguez to be all things to all attacks and allows her game to be what suits her best, which is a very good thing for Utah.
Utah has their artists back
There are many types of soccer players in the world, but they can be roughly placed on a spectrum between warriors - your Becky Sauerbrunn types - to your artists - your Christen Press types.
Utah has a lot of warrior types. Those steady, sure-footed players who will keep the spin of the team strong. The problem is they have long been without their most creative players, their artists. Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara, and Vero Boquete being out has left Amy Rodriguez to pull the full effort of the creative weight.
Having Press, O’Hara and Vero back gives the team the spark they need to be able to compete against teams like Portland. The unpredictability mixed with just talent each brings to the team elevates what Utah can bring to the table.
The Most Noble Order of the Lioness
And now for that most special time where we must speak of the nominations for The Most Noble Order of the Lioness.
This was a hard week to try and figure out who I wanted to give the nomination for the Order. Watching the team clicking together, even with the issues still nagging at the edges of the team, made more than just a single-player or even a pair of them stand out.
At the end of the day finding daylight when there was only the smallest slice to be found is as worthy as any other deed done. For that reason, for the electricity she brought to the team with her runs and the defenders she drew toward her, this week the nomination goes to Christen Press.
And with that nomination Press joins Nicole Barnhart, Vero Boquete, and Sam Johnson as Companions of the Most Noble Order of the Lioness.
Desiree Scott, Amy Rodriguez, and Rachel Corsie need one more nomination to officially join the order.
Please join us July 27th as the Utah Royals FC take on North Carolina. The last time the two squared off they ended up drawing.