SANDY — Utah Royals FC are on a run entering the fall, with a 3-0-1 record in August as they cling to the fourth and final spot in the National Women's Soccer League playoffs.
And while not attributing the success to one player — soccer is, after all, a team sport, every one of them will tell you — there are a couple who stand out.
The first is Christen Press, the U.S. international striker who became the national team's leading assist-dealer with 11 helpers in the team's 3-0 win over Portugal in a Victory Tour celebration Tuesday night.
A day later, Press was named NWSL Player of the Month for August, further exemplifying herself as a star in the league.
It's not just scoring, either. In addition to her three goals in four matches, Press also posted 13 shots on goal and created 12 chances for the Royals (8-6-4, 28 points), who host the league-leading Portland Thorns FC (10-3-6, 36 points) in a rivalry showdown Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium (KSL.com and Yahoo Sports).
Press wasn't the only Royals staffer to earn August accolades. Two of the top three vote recipients from the Player of the Month poll conducted by NWSL Media came from her attacking partner in Utah. Forward Amy Rodriguez, a nominee for the prestigious FIFA Puskas Award given to the goal of the year in world football, finished third in the voting, just behind Portland forward Christine Sinclair.
Another player who has aided Press' ascension in the league is midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta, the Stanford product with a goal and two assists in the last month. Combine it with Press, Rodriguez and the return of healthy attacking midfielder Vero Boquete, and the quality in Utah's attacking third quickly comes out.
"I think I'm seeing what the girls want," LaBonta said recently. "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, 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."
Of course, much of the team's success comes back to defense. But that should be expected of the Laura Harvey-coached Utah side that has given up just one goal in the last five matches, including a scoreless draw at Washington on Aug. 21 before the international break.
"Just defending really well in and around the 18-yard-box, I think, and we exposed ourselves a lot tonight. Our defending in front wasn’t great, my fault really, the way we set ourselves up," Harvey said after the draw with the Spirit. "I think that our backline and the way that we defend in our 18-yard-box is second to none."