It feels like it’s been an entire season, but the Utah Royals finally had their preferred starting XI. Not a minute too soon as the second place and always dangerous North Carolina Courage came to town. To date, the Courage have been unable to beat the Royals in NWSL play and the Royals definitely want to keep it that way.
From the blow of the first whistle, Amy Rodriguez but a quick and scrumptious through ball to Christen Press and made North Carolina goal keeper Stephanie Labbé have to come out and break up a dangerous play. The Courage almost immediately returned the favor at the other end of the pitch forcing Nicole Barnhart to come out of the 18 yard box and divest them of the opportunity.
In the 6’, an indirect free kick was given to the Courage after a Rachel Corsie slide tackle dropped back to Barnhart. It was glaringly obvious that it was not a back-pass, but the ball doesn’t lie and the Courage were not able to gain an advantage from the indirect free kick in the box.
Christen Press and Vero Boquette introduced themselves to the North Carolina backline in the 14’ with an absolutely tasteful combination that lead to a Press goal from 25 yards out. This goal seemed to, at least for a little while, seemed to take the wind out of the Courage’s pressing style of play.
At the end of the 35’, Kristen Hamilton of the Courage caught a pass in from Sam Mewis with her shoulder and then put it into the back of the net off of the volley. This put the score sheet back to an equal pay out of points for both sides. It also seemed to light a fire back under both sides after a solid 15 minutes of both sides just meandering around the pitch.
It wouldn’t take long into the second half for Lo’eau LaBonta to take a stentorian shot from the top of the area, forcing Labbé to push the ball over the goal and give away a corner. Nothing came from the corner, but it was a hopeful sign that coach Laura Harvey’s changes to the formation were starting to come to fruition.
Unfortunately, it only took until the 54’ for Jessica McDonald to find herself on the end of a nice pass in the area and put the Courage up 2-1. The goal came from a collapse of the Utah Royals defensive line, leaving Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel Corsie 2 on 2 with the attacking players from the Courage. Because of the way play broke, it meant they had to switch sides, leaving an opening for McDonald to scoop the ball past Barnhart.
The following minutes of the half showed some pretty discombobulated play from the Royals. A lot of missed long balls over the top, switches to no one, and shots that were nowhere near dangerous. It felt as though they were just hoping that the Courage would regurgitate the ball into a dangerous place and the Royals could capitalize on it. In the 69’, Amy Rodriguez made a decent run on goal, but found herself in a 3 on 1 situation with no outlets along for the ride.
A moment equivalent to regicide happened in the 72’ of the match as Gunny Jónsdóttir was subbed out for Katie Stengel. While this substitution did start to show quick results in the attacking phase of play, it does represent the first time Gunny has been subbed off in Utah Royals history.
The 80’ saw another substitution as Katie Bowen came off for Malory Weber. It seemed as though Harvey was shuffling the deck to try and come up with a more attacking formation. All the changes didn’t help solidify the undercooked mulita the Royals defense had become. Throughout the dying minutes of the match they continued to look as though they weren’t together or moving cohesively, allowing for a couple dangerous counter-attacks to work there way through.
Another attacking change came in the 87’ minute when Erika Tymrak came on for Lo’eau LaBonta to see out the final minutes of the match. Still, the changes and the 5’ of stoppage time didn’t prove to be enough to overcome the one goal deficit and squeeze out one point. The Courage were more than happy to camp out at the corner flag and sit on their first win against the Utah Royals in club history.