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What we learned: Utah Royals vs. Portland Thorns FC

Another draw with moments of glory to end 2020 URFC play at Rio Tinto Stadium for 2020

The second meeting of Utah Royals FC and Portland Thorns in the Fall 2020 series took place at Rio Tinto on Saturday night. Here are a few things that rattled out during this meeting.

NWSL remains at the mercy of partners and finances

From its inception, the current media deal with CBS allowed them to broadcast 17 regular season “Match of the Week”s on CBS Sports Network. While owned by CBS, the SN is a cable sports channel struggling to find an audience and requires a cable subscription, YouTube TV or Hulu + Live. The limited schedule of matches during this COVID devastated-season and special NWSL Challenge Cup sponsorship helped ensure the vast majority of available games on CBS, CBS All Access or Twitch, which is also the international partner. The current lack of 2nd tier college football matches helped ensure that tonight’s match was broadcast over cable on CBSSN causing many fans frustration as they searched for a way to stream the match. Look forward to more CBS SN broadcasts next year and beyond as the number of matches will hopefully increase through expansion into Louisville and a return of normal season play.

While the Thorns and Royals both play in MLS stadiums with a full set of camera positions, VAR remains beyond the physical capability of the home grounds for many NWSL teams and financially far from the immediate goals and needs of the NWSL. Incidents like the 33’ shot by Christine Sinclair, which may and may not have fully crossed the line, will remain an aspect of NWSL play long after MLS moves to a full set of cameras and VAR goal line views in all stadiums. While it would be nice to quickly follow the more financial advanced MLS, I personally would prefer an increase in salary to rank and file players long before the opportunity to argue over multiple angles and referee performance on the field. I can argue officiating calls with my fellow fans just as well with less cameras and angles (and the numerous stoppages of play).

Conditioning remains a major issue for whoever will lead the Royals in 2021

The Royals came out firing on all cylinders and for the first 15 or 20 minutes controlled the match. However, even long before half time, it became increasing obvious that most of the team was feeling the elevation and exertion. Obviously the stop, start and sit nature of 2020 in the NWSL does contribute to this, but this team will continue to play half their matches at Rio Tinto. With the next highest elevation in the league being Lynn Family Stadium in expansion Louisville, this is one easy thing for the Royals to take advantage of. We may not have a beach and movie stars cruising town, but the Royals can make the elevation an advantage unique to them.

Rio Tinto in 2020 is in the rear view mirror and 2021 awaits

Can 2021 be any worse? It currently appears that the Utah Royals will return in 2021 with new ownership, at least some new management, and a crew of young and exciting players. Plan now to expand your fandom and find friends next year while you cheer on the side at Rio Tinto. After all, it is the friendships that remain as the lights go out and the winter winds howl, and then comes that magical first match of a new fresh season.