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Utah draws opening Challenge Cup match to Houston Dash

After a strong start and taking the lead in the first half Utah gives up a goal before half but mounts a comeback to draw 3-3.

2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Day 2 Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Utah Royals FC returned to action against the Houston Dash in their first match of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.

Headed into this game, there were a lot of questions surrounding who would start, who had injuries, and ultimately what coach decisions would be made.

Come kickoff, Abby Smith found her first start since 2018 in goal, and Britney Ratcliffe and Diana Matheson returned to play for the first time since their respective injuries. Elizabeth Ball made her debut for Utah as well.

Right off the bat Utah came out with a really strong start. Head Coach Craig Harrington emphasized pregame how important the first five minutes were going to be, and Utah got that message. Although they didn’t score, they got in the offensive third almost immediately from the kickoff.

Utah’s offense continued to dominate this game as Utah almost found the first goal off a Vero Boquete shot in the 20’ minute that sailed just over the crossbar. Just two minutes later, Ratcliffe had another near miss.

Then, in the 35’ Utah final found the breakthrough. Just minutes after the first league-mandated water break, Lo’eau LaBonta dropped a dime to Amy Rodriguez who served the ball into Matheson for the first goal.

Sadly right before the half, Houston would find an equalizer in the 45+1’ thanks to Rachel Daly. The first half would end with these teams drawn 1-1.

Right out of the half, Daly found another one to put Houston up 2-1.

Utah in the second half was still good offensively but defensive struggles began to show, and this game quickly became a tale of two halves. With Utah playing a three man backline, it became difficult for them to defend the Dash, who were firing on all cylinders. In the 61’, Daly thought she should have found her third goal for a hat trick, but the goal was called back.

In the midst of the goal being called back, Utah made their first subs of the match to bring on Kate Del Fava and Taylor Lytle for Katie Bowen and Raisa Strom-Okimoto.

Then in the 67’ minute, Shea Groom found the third for the Dash. This inspired Utah to sub on Tziarra King for Ratcliffe.

Utah’s defense was finally able to regain their composure, and after a Houston handball Utah, was able to bring this game to 3-2 in the 84’ thanks to a Boquete free kick. Matheson saw yellow for an altercation with Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell after the goal was scored.

In a last ditch effort to find the draw, Utah subbed in Maddie Nolf and Michelle Maemone for Matheson and Gunny Jonsdottir. Immediately after the subs, in her debut Utah, rookie Tziarra King found the equalizer for Utah off a header in the 88’.

With 6 minutes of stoppage, both teams were desperate to find the winner, but ultimately Utah’s comeback would stop at a 3-3 draw.

Utah’s next match is July 4th and 10:30 AM MST against Sky Blue FC.