SANDY — In a competitive, deep, standout league as strong as the nine-team National Women’s Soccer League, fortunes can change in a hurry.
Look no further than second-year club Utah Royals FC.
Just two weeks after going winless in six-straight matches, the Royals are on a different type of roll.
Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez each scored a goal in the second half, and the Royals went on to shut out the Orlando Pride, 2-0 for their third-straight win Saturday evening at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Nicole Barnhart made one save to earn the shutout for Utah (8-6-3, 27 points), which jumped into the top four with seven games remaining.
"I don’t think it was our best performance on either side of the ball, but we stuck with it. We dug in and Christen and Amy are a threat — they don’t need too many chances to score, we didn’t get them in the game as much as we would want," Utah coach Laura Harvey said after the match. "I think we knew tonight they were gonna throw absolutely everything at us, and they did that, maybe a little bit of luck went our way at times, but I think we were super professional towards the end of the game with us 2-0 up."
Press scored the opening goal 60 minutes into the match, finishing off a beautiful feed from Lo’eau LaBonta — who notched an assist for the third-straight match.
And with it, the Stanford product who joined the Royals after FC Kansas City dissolved helped Utah move into a critical top-four spot in the nine-team league.
"I think I'm seeing what the girls want. We’ve talked a lot more, especially after those couple losses, and at halftime we’re talking and after every little play we get wrong we’re talking," LaBonta said, "so the fact that we’re able to correct a mistake and, you know again, capitalize on that is, I think, what’s happening with our forwards scoring more off of Vero and I."
Perhaps several caveats should be extended to the Royals’ win. U.S. star Alex Morgan did not start for Orlando, coming off the bench in the 68th minute. The Pride are also the worst team in the league, having dropped just behind New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC in recent weeks with a 3-11-2 overall record.
But credit should go to Utah (8-6-3, 27 points), as well, for out-shooting the Pride 15-12 — while holding Orlando to one shot on goal while pouring on nine chances itself. After a six-match winless skid, the Royals broke out in a big way against Sky Blue at home, then followed up with a historic road win over Reign FC in Tacoma, Washington.
The momentum continued in the Sunshine State.
Utah was inches away from taking the lead — twice — in the first half. But Press’ one-on-one with the entire back line just missed the back of the net — a moment that preceded Amy Rodriguez’s chance in the 29th minute that hit the post before Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris mercifully corralled Katie Stengel’s chance on the rebound.
Rodriguez didn’t miss her next opportunity. Less than 20 minutes after Press’ opening goal, the veteran striker found space after a perfect setup from Vero Boquete. The USC product lifted a cheeky goal that tipped off the gloves of Harris to give Utah space, time — and confidence — in winning their third-straight.
"The team's playing good right now," Rodriguez said. "I think that we've got a solid midfield going right now and the girls are working hard. We’re doing all the gritty work, which Laura loves and wants us to do, and we brought it tonight. We weren’t gonna leave tonight without three points and that’s what we did."