SANDY — Through the first quarter of the 2018 season, the Utah Royals’ attack has been spotty, at times.
The team's reputation, then, is being built on defense.
Utah’s newest professional soccer franchise drew for the fifth time in the first seven matches of its inaugural season in Salt Lake City, notching a scoreless tie with visiting Orlando in front of 7,137 fans Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Royals goalkeeper Abby Smith earned her third shutout of the season, with two coming in scoreless draws.
"I'll take being known as a good defensive team," Utah coach Laura Harvey said. "I think we were disappointed not being able to get the three points. Over the 90 minutes, I felt we were the better team with more opportunities than they had.
"We were a bit braver in the second half and I think we got the reward of it. We put them on the back-foot a bit more … But the building for us requires us to finish a team off when we have that momentum. We didn’t do that."
Utah, which won 2-0 against Washington just four days prior, out-shot Orlando 13-4. But the Pride (2-2-3) boasted the first two shots on goal with a side that featured World Cup veterans Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux Dwyer, five-time FIFA player of the year Marta Vieira da Silva, and leading scorer Chioma Ubogagu in the attack.
The Royals (1-1-5) put just one shot on target and have five more blocked by a field-position player.
"They have a very potent attack, so we had to be very aware of where they are — the spaces they tried to capitalize," Utah defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. "I thought the back line did a good job of protecting the space behind, but also protecting the space in front while making sure our one-v-one defending was tight."
Brittany Ratcliffe, who entered as a late substitute for starter Diana Matheson, had the best chance of the night with a quick counterattack in the 88th minute. But her shot from the corner of the box was parried aside by Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who made her only save of the match to earn the shutout.
"In the second half, we definitely had momentum. We definitely created a lot of chances," Sauerbrunn said. "We were just missing by inches ... I think it was just a little bit of precision tonight that we didn’t have."
The Royals out-shot the visiting Pride 5-1 in the first half, but failed to place a shot on target until Ratcliffe’s attempt.
The squad that started with lethargy gradually built up until it appeared to have more energy late in the match, thanks in large part to subs Ratcliffe, Katie Stengel and Erika Tymrak.
"I felt in the first half that we looked a bit tired and off. I felt we were cautious because of it," Harvey said. "In the second half, we came out and played. We planned to make early subs, but I felt we got momentum and were pushing and doing well.
"I thought the subs came in and made a difference. To bring on fresh legs and keep the press high really worked; we kept putting Orlando on the back foot. We just couldn’t get that goal that we needed."
Rodriguez nearly scored the first goal of the match just before the 70th minute, but her left-footed shot from a tight angle sailed wide right.
The previously injured forward coming off ACL surgery played 75 minutes before making way for Stengel, who brought a spark to the attack alongside fellow reserve forward Ratcliffe against a team that drew with the Royals 1-1 in the franchise’s first-ever match March 24 in Orlando.
"I think the altitude might have hit them in the second half," Sauerbrunn said. "I think we got more energy as the second half wore on, and it didn’t hit us that hard.
"But we want to have the best back five in the league ... If we’re known for being a team that’s hard to break down, we’ll take that mantle."
Utah takes a 10-days hiatus before returning to Rio Tinto Stadium at 1:30 p.m. MT May 19 to host the Houston Dash. The game will be broadcast on Lifetime TV.
Real Monarchs 4, Swope Park Rangers 1
At Herriman, Kalen Ryden scored twice and Juan Mare added his second goal in as many matches as the Monarchs moved to the top of the USL’s Western Conference with four-unanswered goals against Sporting Kansas City’s second-division affiliate.
Swope Park’s Kharlton Belmar opened the scoring in the eighth minute to give the visitors the early advantage at Zions Bank Stadium.
But Ryden got the final touch on a strike by Sebastian Velasquez to equalize in the 24th minute, and the Monarchs never trailed again.
Rangers’ Brad Evans scored an own goal in the 60th minute for the final margin.
Real Monarchs improved to 3-0-1 at home a year after winning the USL regular-season title, and took the top spot in the West over Orange County SC and the Sacramento Republic with a game in hand.
The Monarchs will host expansion side Fresno FC at 1 p.m. MT Saturday, May 12 at Zions Bank Stadium.
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