SANDY — All streaks must come to an end.
Even the impressive unbeaten run Utah Royals FC had against the reigning NWSL champion North Carolina Courage.
Kristen Hamilton notched a goal and an assist to help the Courage to their first-ever win over Utah, 2-1 in front of an announced crowd of 10,545 fans Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Christen Press gave Utah (5-5-3, 18 points) a 1-0 lead just 13 minutes in, but Hamilton equalized with 10 minutes remaining in the first half in the NWSL Game of the Week on ESPNews.
“I thought the goals we gave away, we didn’t make them work for it," Utah coach Laura Harvey said after the match. "You know with them that you could get put under a lot of pressure.
“Normally they outshoot you; I don’t think they did. When you put in all of those things, it’s difficult to take that you come away with nothing from a game.”
Jessica McDonald gave the Courage their first lead of the game in the 55th minute, redirecting a cross from Hamilton inside the 6-yard box for a wide-open goal that silenced the accumulating supporters’ section crowd in the north end.
Utah entered the match with a 1-0-3 record against North Carolina, including a 1-1 draw May 19 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Carey, North Carolina. The loss drops the Royals to 0-1-1 against the Courage at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Courage (7-3-4, 25 points) are unbeaten in their last five matches.
Still, there were moments of greatness from the Royals. Press' goal. Vero Boquete's assist. The roster that featured all six internationals from this summer's FIFA World Cup, playing against a squad that won the NWSL title a year ago and featured four U.S. standouts of its own.
But the consistency, the bite, the desire to defend? That wasn't there — at least, not to Harvey's liking.
“I thought you saw glimpses of (what the Royals can be) tonight. I thought we caused them a lot of problems," Harvey said. “You can’t give two goals away every game. You can’t do that. This league doesn’t allow you to do that and win games.
“We have to get back to being hard to beat. If that means we win 1-nil, we win 1-nil.”
Boquete’s return to the starting lineup following an ankle injury proved immediate dividends for the Royals. The former Spanish international fed a through-ball to Press for the opening goal, dropping a weighted pass into traffic that the U.S. striker struck with a right-footed blast from just outside the box for her third goal of the season.
It was Utah's first shot of the match, coming in the 14th minute of play. North Carolina had five.
“It’s just too easy to play with Christen," Boquete said. "Once she has the space and she starts to run, my job is just to try to find a way to pass the ball to her. I just passed the ball there, and she had a perfect first touch — and just an amazing goal."
With eight shots in the first 35 minutes of play, the Courage didn’t seem destined to stay down for long.
And they didn't.
Hamilton corralled a long cross from U.S. international Samantha Mewis for the opening goal, and with one touch on a stupendous half-volley slotted home the equalizer that squeezed past Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and inside the top-left corner.
The Royals nearly equalized in the 74th minute, first when Kelley O’Hara’s strike from distance was parried aside by Stephanie Labbe. The Courage 'keeper then made a reflex save on Katie Stengel’s follow-up shot in front of goal just seconds later, preserving the one-goal margin for the visitors and a historic win in the 2-year-old rivalry series.
“Look at their goals; let’s be brutal about it. Their goals come from us making mistakes," Harvey said. "Do I think that our lack of playing together as an 11 came to those? No. Do I think us creating more chances is because of that? Yes. That’s the thing that we have to make sure we build off.
“When we have our best players here and want to play expansively, we have to make sure that we give nothing away on our end. That comes from being really diligent defensively and not giving anything away.”