SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Royals FC’s playoff chances are now on life support.
In the 86th minute, Reign FC’s Jodie Taylor hit a low volley into the back of the net to give the Reign a 2-1 win over the Royals on Wednesday in Tacoma, Washington.
The late game-winner gave the home team a stranglehold on the final NWSL playoff spot. The Royals didn’t just lose the game, they lost the tiebreaker over the Reign too. And now they will need a lot of help if they want to make it to the postseason.
With two games remaining, Reign FC now has a three-point advantage in the race for the last spot in the playoffs.
Utah will finish the season with games against Chicago, which currently has the second-best record in the league, and Hoston. Reign FC finishes with perennial powerhouse Portland and league-bottom dweller Orlando.
The late goal served as a gut punch for a Utah side that had got a second-half equalizer to breathe hope back into the game.
In the 67th minute, Katie Stengel blasted a bouncing ball into the back of the net to equalize the game at 1-1.
It was a moment of relief for the Royals after they conceded a late second-half goal when Reign FC forward Bethany Balcer snuck into the box off a quick counter-attack in the 40th minute and beat Nicole Barnhart with a low shot.
Last Saturday it was Barnhart that tapped her chest, taking the blame for the last two goals the Royals conceded in a loss to the North Carolina Courage. It looked like she was going to be able to take credit for a positive result in Tacoma.
With the score at 1-1, the Reign’s Ifeoma Onumonu had a strong header from close range that forced Barnhart to make an incredible one-handed save. The save kept the game tied. But only until Taylor's heroics, striking a low and powerful shot after a ball had been headed into the box.
Taylor was playing in place of U.S. Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe, who was in attendance, but not in the lineup after being in Italy for the FIFA award on Monday. Taylor also assisted on Balcer’s goal.
The Royals will try to keep some playoff hope alive when they travel to Chicago on Saturday. That match will begin at 6 p.m. and will be streamed live on KSL.com.