The last time we gathered here in the Royals Court, Utah had six fewer points, two fewer wins, and six fewer goals.
There is good and bad in every game, but having two big wins and breaking the two goal ceiling that seemingly was made of titanium, that loomed over the team the first half of the season, had done a lot to help ease some of the worry around if this team can make a playoff push.
Seventh and fifth might only be two spots apart in the standings, but they are a miles apart mentally for both the team and the fans.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Pressing their advantage
There are a lot of reasons that Utah Royals look like a better soccer team right now. The chemistry of the team seems to be having a more stable chemical reaction; Harvey has changed out a few players in and out of the starting XI, and maybe most of all, Christen Press has come out of the World Cup ready to push her team forward to the playoffs.
Since coming back from the World Cup, Utah has looked better overall with Press. But looking better will only get you so far when three points slips away. Every defender in the league knows that Press can hit from both close up and from distance. That means they have to spend a considerable amount of time defending her which, as we saw against the Reign FC, leaves her teammates open even when she can’t find the net herself.
Having Press on the field is an advantage but there is also the mental advantage for the reason of the team of having her there as well. The other attacking talent on the team has worked hard and been bundled up more times than not in the last two months. Press opens the game and gives a creative spark that seems both good for Press’ stat line and putting W’s on paper.
And while the announcers seem to be overwhelmed at the idea Press and Amy Rodriguez haven’t assisted each other on a goal yet, it will come in time.
Reigning on Tacoma’s parade
For the first five years of the NWSL’s existence, Laura Harvey was as much part of the fabric of the Seattle Reign FC as Jess Fishlock or Megan Rapinoe were. She weathered the storm that was a disaster of the 2013 Reign FC season, found a way to get Kim Little over from England, and made the 2014/2015 Reign one of the two most dominate teams the NWSL has ever seen, the second being the 2017/2018 North Carolina Courage.
When Harvey departed Seattle and the great coaching switch of 2018 happened between her and Vlatko Andonovski, and his FC Kansas City became the Utah Royals FC, a lot of focus was put on the Utah vs Reign FC rivalry and coaching show down.
And through 2018 and for the first match in 2019, Vlatko came out on top.
That all changed on Sunday.
Some are going to point out, rightly perhaps, that the Reign FC had 11 players on the injury report for this match. They are going to point to Jess Fishlock and Megan Repinoe watching from the stands instead of being on the pitch as why this happened. And honestly, they may be right. But a breakthrough, even if that breakthrough happened against a weakened advisory, is still a breakthrough. Utah has proven that they can beat the Reign, and they can do it without putting all their eggs in the Christen Press basket. That might be a key boost to their confidence as they head in to their last eight games.
Utah needs points to gain ground
These past two games have gone a long way to trying to get Utah to their first-ever playoff semifinals.
Over the next eight games, they play Orlando, Washington, Portland, Houston, Reign FC, North Carolina, Chicago, and Houston. Half of those teams are above Utah in the standings, and those possible 16 points would go a long way to push Utah higher in the standings. The other four teams are all hanging out lower on the table and are 16 needed points if Utah does want to show they have found the next gear.
They need five to six wins out of the eight games they have left, a little luck, and everyone to stay healthy or get healthy for a playoff run to come together. It’s possible though and feels real for the first time in months.
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.
There are few players who have a history dominating another team the way Amy Rodriguez does with the (Seattle) Reign FC. There is no other choice but to elevate her up to become a Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Lioness.
And with that nomination, Rodriguez joins Desiree Scott, Christen Press, Nicole Barnhart, Vero Boquete, and Sam Johnson as Companions of the Most Noble Order of the Lioness.
Rachel Corsie need ones more nomination to officially join the order.