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SANDY — New keeper, same defensive mentality.
Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart earned her first shutout in a home kit on the Wasatch Front, and Utah Royals FC held on for a scoreless draw against league-leading North Carolina Courage Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“Barney killed it,” said Utah defender Becca Moros, who was teammates with Barnhart at the now-defunct FC Kansas City. “I’ve played with Barney many years, and she kills it every day. I think we have two of the best keepers in the league on this team.
“Barney’s phenomenal. She’s incredibly professional, and she didn’t skip a beat. You would never know this was her first game in a while. She was awesome.”
Lynn Williams nearly bagged the match-winner with three minutes left in regulation. But Utah center back Rachel Corsie made a slide tackle after a dead sprint to deny the goal, and the Royals cleared the ensuing two corner kicks off the line twice in the dying moments of the match.
From last night: @UtahRoyalsFC GK Nicole Barnhart talks to the broadcast crew on the KSL TV app after her first clean sheet at Rio Tinto Stadium. https://t.co/2PMaBMJtnlpic.twitter.com/o8slLEJdDL— KSL SportsBeat (@kslsports) July 21, 2018
North Carolina (14-1-4, 46 points) out-shot the Royals 20-5, but put just three shots on target in the draw.
“We had to treat this match with North Carolina almost like its own game,” said Royals coach Laura Harvey, whose team rode a three-match losing streak into Friday night. “Everyone’s lost to them, and I think this game was one where you isolate it on its own.
“In the first half, we didn’t turn up, honestly. But we spoke about it at halftime, and the girls responded really well in the second half.”
In three matches, Utah Royals FC (5-6-7, 22 points) remain the only NWSL side to go unbeaten against the league-leading Courage with one win and two draws.
“It’s great to get points off them,” Utah’s Katie Bowen said. “Every time we’ve faced them, we’ve gotten points off them — which a lot of teams haven’t done. But we’ll have mixed feelings because I think we could’ve gotten three points.”
Barnhart made four saves to keep the Courage at bay, and Utah tried to open the game up more in the second half. Bowen registered the Royals’ first shot on goal nearly 70 minutes into the match, but North Carolina keeper Katelyn Rowland made an easy save to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
But defensively, the Royals locked down a team that could’ve clinched the NWSL regular-season title with a win and a draw or loss by Seattle on Saturday. Instead, the Courage will have to wait until August — after the mini-international break for the four-team Tournament of Nations — to solidify its title.
“We had a strict game plan,” Bowen said. “We knew they have a lot of pace up front, and we needed to give ourselves a lot of space. Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald are class players. “Barney had an awesome game, and we’re stoked to have the clean sheet.”
A defensive battle at Rio Tinto Stadium. Highlights from #UTAvNC ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/LlBNbvNKAr— NWSL (@NWSL) July 21, 2018
The Royals will take a few days off while the National Women’s Soccer League goes on a mini-hiatus during the Tournament of Nations, a four-team round-robin friendly event hosted by the U.S. women’s national team. Among the call-ups to the squad are Utah defender Becky Sauerbrunn and forwards Amy Rodriguez and Christen Press.
Harvey will give the Royals some time off over the next week, but they’ll report back to training Friday to prepare for a match August 5 at Houston.
“We’ve had a lot of games,” Harvey said. “So we’ll take a breather, then come back in Friday. We’ve got a three-game week coming off the back of Tournament of Nations, which is the cleverest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Utah’s next home match comes August 8 against former BYU star Ashley Hatch and the Washington Spirit.
Friday night was the first professional match in Utah for Riverton High alum Darian Jenkins. The former UCLA standout was drafted by North Carolina in the 2017 NWSL college draft, and started the match on the bench.
Jenkins made her Rio Tinto Stadium debut in the 72nd minute as a second-half sub for Carolina scoring threat Jess McDonald.