With the final game of the 2020 NWSL season for Utah Royals FC, the focus of effort shifts to front offices and preparation for the 2021 season. What did the last gasp in Tacoma help us understand about the 2020 version of the Utah Royals?
I can take them on the dribble!
While the NWSL does clearly feature a higher prevalence of dribbling in traffic than the corresponding MLS games, the Royals tend to be among league leaders in the number of extended dribbles. Rather than opting for short quick touch passes immediately upon receiving the ball, the Royals frequently attempt to dribble past a player or two while examining the field before attempting a pass.
After the first 15 minutes of the match, the Royals had completed only two passes in the OL Reign half of the field. Worse for the Royals, one of the two was a goal kick from Abby Smith.
During the same period, the Royals had over 10 touches in the OL Reign half and earned a corner kick as the midfield and forwards attempted to dribble through traffic rather than making the quick touch pass. Both sides struggled to possess the ball for several passes, but the Royals turnovers were frequently in their own half and left the fortunate to walk off the field down by only a single goal at halftime.
For lack of a pivot...
Whether the Royals were in the 4-3-3 announced on the television broadcast or the 4-2-3-1 displayed on the NWSL website is less important than the lack of pivot as the Royals attempted to move forward into the offensive half. For a squad that wants to build out of the back, it is vital to have a central pivot player, who is also a skilled passer, as the first target during the squad’s transition over to offensive movement. A half-field pass out to the wing of choice, or up the center if offered, will find much more success and require less precision that a long cross-field pass over the head of a number of players. Early clearances out to the side tend to end with the ball trapped on one side by a heavy press.
During the first half, the three “midfielders” of the Royals (Aminata Diallo, Taylor Lytle, Lo’Eau LaBonta) had the following touches during the first half.
Who was providing that pivot for the Royals? Who was able to switch the point of attack successfully?
Several players who haven’t seen much action for the Royals this season got some time to showcase their skills and abilities in this final match of the season. Former central defender Gaby Vincent came on for the second time in central midfield and proved she can contribute effectively in that position. Michele Vasconcelos, an experienced winger, came on and had one of the best opportunities on goal for the Royals. Arielle Ship also made an appearance but did not do much to draw attention.