Utah Royals FC may not have set off fireworks against Sky Blue in a 1-0 win Saturday morning, but a strong performance from Amy Rodriguez led the team to their first victory of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Veteran attacker Rodriguez opened the scoring late in the first half with a brilliantly timed run into the box and a superb assist from creative midfielder Vero Boquete, with her shot smartly placed to the goalkeeper’s right. It was the culmination of a series of missed chances from Rodriguez, who had two excellent scoring opportunities left wanting.
The Royals roundly bossed the opening segment of the match, though the scoring touch eluded them. The effort was punctuated early by two well-positioned free kicks from Vero Boquete on the left wing, but opportunities from the run of play only fizzled as the side approached the box. That effort was led by veteran Amy Rodriguez and oft-injured Brittany Ratcliffe, with Raisa Strom-Okimoto an early source of (yet unsuccessful) firepower.
Perhaps as notable than a strong start offensively was a stronger defensive stance. One would imagine Royals coach Craig Harrington emphasized it after a near-disastrous start to the tournament defensively in their opener, a 3-3 draw with Houston Dash.
The game slowed down a bit to start the second half, with both sides struggling to create chances as the turf in Herriman heated up. Harrington made a handful of changes by the two-thirds mark in a bid to tilt the narrative, with Tziarra King, Gunny Jonsdottir, Katie Bowen and Mallory Weber entering the match by the 66th minute.
A late volley of efforts from Sky Blue wasn’t enough to tip the scales, and Royals ran out winners over 90 minutes.