On Sunday night at 5:00 p.m. the North Carolina Courage will host Utah Royals FC at Sahlen’s Stadium. It will be the fourth meeting between the two teams, and no team has even been able to make it through four games without suffering at least one loss to North Carolina. Both teams are coming off of their first losses on 2019, and there are plenty of storylines to follow. The biggest one is undoubtedly the missing United States and Canadian women’s national team players for both teams, but let’s see what Lucas Muller of RSL Soapbox has to say about his team.
Utah Royals FC is coming off of their first loss of the season. What position group needs to improve the most after last weekend’s match against Houston?
Utah Royals need to improve their defending. It’s not just the backline, although they were far from outstanding last week, it seems to been a whole team mentality.
Much of the shift from keeping clean sheets to conceding two goals is the loss of Desiree Scott. The Canada International has been a huge force as a defensive midfielder. Last weekend was the first game without her on the field this season and her absence showed. Lo LaBonta stepped into Scott’s position, and while she is a good midfielder, the fit wasn’t quite there. It may be that defensive mid isn’t her preferred position or that she hasn’t played there in a good while, but that spot serves as the lynchpin for what the Royals do, and they need to be stronger there.
On the backline, Sam Johnson had a few key mistakes, one of which led to a goal. The Royals are about to lose (Rachel) Corsie to Scotland and (Katie) Bowen to New Zealand, so things will get tougher unless the national team replacements can gel and gel quickly.
Against Washington, Orlando, and Houston, Utah looked like the better team for the first half hour, but then they were not able to score again. What needs to change in the second half for the Royals to be more successful?
The team is still figuring each other out. They brought in Vero Boquete as their new number 10, and she shows a lot of skill but that hasn’t quite connect with her attackers. She did get her first assist last weekend, which was a beautiful pass to Rodriguez. If that’s a sign of things to come, then Utah will be a much more dangerous team in the attack.
The frequent change in personnel hasn’t helped team chemistry. Christen Press, who was largely responsible for the first two goals of the season, is now with the national team. The team is very lucky to have players like A Rod and Katie Stengel who will be around the entire season. If they can see more chances created as the attackers gel with Vero, then they’ll be in a good spot.
Utah won their first three matches somewhat unconvincingly. 1-0 wins over Washington and Orlando, then an early red card against Katie Johnson in the match against Chicago., and then they lost to Houston. Who is going to step up for this team and how will you prove the doubters wrong?
I still think Vero will prove to be Utah’s most important signing of the season. She’s a very gifted attacking midfielder. Utah Royals have always been a very strong team defensively, but with (Becky) Sauerbrunn, (Kelley) O’Hara, Corise, and Bowen out, it’s an entirely new backline. Michelle Maemone has already done well as a rookie at left back. (Becca) Moros should return from her injury soon. Johnson is a good center back, even if she had a bad game.
But the player that will prove doubters wrong is Amy Rodriguez. She’s an incredibly gifted forward. She’s already scored two goals this season. Being left off of the World Cup roster, while no surprise, is likely to light a fire under her. She was one of the best players on the field against Houston and was furious at the loss, saying she took it personally and the whole team wants to do better this weekend.
Bonus: The Courage slayer, Brittany Ratcliffe, is out with an injury. Who is going to come through and beat the Courage in stoppage time this season?
I actually asked Ratcliffe a very similar question on the Utah Royals FC Show podcast last week. My question was: would the team be able to score without her? She said the team was more likely to score without her, which was a very kind thing of her to say about her teammates. If I had to make a prediction for who gets that last minute goal in Cary, I’ll say that Vero gets her first for the Royals.