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SANDY — Utah Royals FC had the crowd, the stadium and one of the best home-pitch environments in the six-year history of the National Women’s Soccer League.
But Utah’s opponent got the win.
Chicago’s Danielle Colaprico scored her first goal of the season, helping the visiting Red Stars to a 1-0 win over the NWSL expansion outfit Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium in front of the second-largest home-opening crowd in league history.
“Everything around the game has been phenomenal in terms of build-up,” Utah coach Laura Harvey said. “But the coach’s fear is that you get caught up in the occasion, and I was very conscious that we didn’t do that. It’s hard not to when it is what it was.”
But Colaprico will go down as the first goal-scorer in the NWSL’s history in Sandy, teeing up from the top of the penalty circle and slicing a shot into the upper 90 to give the visiting Red Stars their first win of the season.
With just two shots on goal across 90 minutes, Chicago (1-1-1) made its chances count.
“When you come on away trips, it’s always going to be a battle,” said Colaprico, who scored the first-ever goal from the run of play against Utah. “But one thing we talked about before this trip was winning first and second balls, and when the first ball came, I jumped right on the second ball.
“It found the back of the net, so it was good. I think we came out on top in first and second balls, so that’s great for us.”
The lone strike also sent the 19,203 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium home with a little bit of dejection. The attendance figure is dwarfed only by Orlando's 2016 home opener that drew 23,403 to the Citrus Bowl before the club moved into Orlando City Stadium last year.
“The show that they put on beforehand and everything they had was amazing,” Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said. “It’s great for the league, great for Utah and great for all these players that have stuck with the team and came over from Kansas City.”
Utah nearly equalized less than two minutes after the goal, but Gunny Jonsdottir’s header inside the box sailed over the crossbar.
Utah out-shot the visitors 13-10, but U.S. international goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made just one save to earn the shutout.
“In this league, you don’t get tons of chances — and when you do, you have to score,” Harvey said. “They got a decent chance, and it was a great finish. We had a couple of great chances and couldn’t finish.”
Both teams put up five shots in the first half, and the Royals were called offside three times. Kelley O’Hara saw an offside flag raised on a dangerous run into the box in the 38th minute, and the Red Stars converted the only shot on goal of the first half to take the halftime advantage.
It proved to be her final major contribution of the match.
“It’s obviously not the result we wanted,” said O’Hara, who suffered a minor hamstring injury two weeks ago in a 0-0 draw at Houston and played just 45 minutes. “We wanted to give the fans a win every time they come here, especially with the number that came today. That’s my focus going forward.”
Rachel Corsie had a golden opportunity to equalize in the 70th minute when the Red Stars saved one free-kick attempt. The rebound fell to Corsie’s feet, but the Scottish international defender could only watch as her quick shot sailed over the crossbar and into the supporters’ section behind the north goal.
With Utah trailing 1-0, Amy Rodriguez entered the match as a sub in the 77th minute. The former U.S. international star made her first appearance in NWSL since a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in Kansas City’s first match of 2017 — which was her first match since the birth of her child in July 2016.
At her best, the 31-year-old Rodriguez is a difference maker. She scored 26 goals in 38 appearances for the now defunct-FC Kansas City and has 30 goals with the U.S. women’s national team since 2005.
The Royals will help to get her back to full fitness — and fast. Through three games, the NWSL’s newest squad has scored just one goal while allowing two.
“Hurry up and get fit. That’s what I thought,” Harvey said. “Hurry up and get to 90 minutes as quickly as possible.”
Back where she belongs 😍 pic.twitter.com/Zlp3DU9bq1— Utah Royals FC (@UtahRoyalsFC) April 14, 2018
That goes for the rest of the team, O’Hara added; hurry up and get better.
“This is the third game of the season. Everyone who has played in this league knows it is a grind,” the U.S. international said.
“Some teams have started off super hot and fizzled at the end, while sometimes that struggle in the beginning comes on hot in the end. We’re just going to look to build. We’ve got to get better; end of story.”
Utah travels to play the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, April 21 in another Lifetime game of the week at 1:30 p.m. MT. The Royals’ next home match is April 28 at 7 p.m. MT against Portland Thorns FC.
Chicago hosts the Houston Dash in a mid-week game, April 18 at 5:30 p.m. MT.