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Declarations from the Royals Court: Two more games, three points, still in fourth

The NWSL Challenge Cup has been wild. Now with 5 teams at 1-1-1.

2020 NWSL Challenge Cup - Day 6 Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Utah Royals FC has played two games since the last time things were declared from the Royals Court.

The first was a rather dull game with a perfect pass from Vero to Amy Rodriguez for the only goal of the match. The second was a rather dull affair with a single moment of brilliance in the dying minutes by OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer.

What can we learn from these matches?

Let’s begin, shall we?

The Declarations

Wins, draws and losses by one goal is the norm

For 25 times in their 51 matches or over 49%, Utah has had their matches end in a scoreline of 1-0, 0-1, 2-1, or 1-2. So far, we’ve seen two or their three matches end just this way, 1-0 vs Sky Blue and 0-1 vs OL Reign.

The Royals are a team with some firepower upfront. When Vero hits a person ball to Amy Rodriguez, very few things can stop at least a quality shot being produced. But rotation, due to the strain the Challenge Cup, puts teams on strange bedfellows that have lead to a sluggish midfield that can’t spring the forwards the way they might want.

Without Press and O’Hara, one due to choice and the other due to the inability to be healthy for more than a World Cup at a time, the Royals have less formational flexibility than they might have on paper.

Lo’eau LaBonta playing as a defensive midfielder has been one of the more underrated reasons things have worked so well when they have clicked for the Royals. LaBonta is the type of player, willing to do the hard work in the midfield, that the league has been built on.

A merry band of misfits

The Royals roster is a bit of a Hodge-Podge. There are pretty good players in a lot of positions, but often, it’s a 7/10 in one position playing in another that might drop them closer to 5.5/10.

The team also suffers the inconvenience of having a brand new head coach who is having to try to install his philosophy, game style, and player selection during a tournament where having a team already who knows each other is a huge benefit. That’s not to say that Utah hasn’t had success. They came back against Houston in a way that last year’s team just wouldn’t have, and they pulled off a win against a Sky Blue team that had a better overall 18 than last year.

But what this tournament does show is going into 2021, Utah will need to pick up better players. They can’t rely on Press and O’Hara coming back to be the reason the team succeeds. After this tournament, it might benefit the team to let about 30% of the team go and take their chances on the open market of Europe, assuming Europeans want to come to America in the middle of poorly-handled government response to a pandemic.

The possibility of an expansion draft out of Louisville might help as well. The team is going to be forced to take a look at who they want to keep and who they don’t, and one would think in the off-season, there’s going to be more player movement than we’ve seen, not less.

What To Do About Kelley O’Hara

I have been thinking a lot lately about a player who has seen no minutes for Utah in 2020.

Kelley O’Hara is one of the most naturally gifted soccer players. The key to that, of course, is she has to be able to play, and right now, she has not been playing.

While O’Hara was taken off the injury report for the game against OL Reign, it was clear that the plan was never to have her play. I’m not even sure if every other sub was unavailable and they needed O’Hara to go in, she would’ve been physically capable of entering the match and playing at any sort of professional level.

So that begs the question of what Utah should do? Do they try to get O’Hara some minutes in 2020 and see how it goes? Do they shut O’Hara down for 2020 and hope the 2021 season is a new day for her? Do you shop around and see if anybody’s willing to take a player who is a name and has world-class talent but who has a history of being injured over the last three to five years?

Personally, as much as I enjoy O’Hara as a player (she’s probably one of my top five favorite national team players), I think the Royals should try to get as much value out of her and get two or even three players who are going to be healthy enough to play more often.

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.

This week the honor of nomination goes to Lo’eau LaBonta. She has gone above and beyond to be the type of player the team needs with very little praise over it. LaBonta is a solid player doing the less glamorized work that the team so dearly needs.

And with that nomination LaBonta joins Tziarra King with nominations to the Order for the 2020 “season.”