SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Royals have one game left in their season, and they’ll only be playing for pride.
Utah’s already slim playoff hopes ended on Saturday with a 2-1 road loss to the Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium.
For the second time in four days, the Royals conceded a goal in the closing minutes to lose a match. In the 85th minute, Chicago’s Yuki Nagasato rebounded a Sam Kerr shot off Utah keeper Nicole Barnhart to give the Red Stars the victory.
The Royals needed at least a tie in Saturday’s match to keep their playoff aspirations alive.
The Utah side played like a desperate team, especially in the second half. After halftime, the Royals controlled possession, generating chance after chance at the game-leading goal.
In the 53rd minute, Utah’s Christen Press sent a shot high. In the 68th, Chicago defender Jullie Ertz needed to clear the ball off the goalline after Katie Stengel clipped on a Press free-kick on frame. In the 70th, Press that sent an Amy Rodriguez shot just wide.
On and on, it went. With chances from Rodriguez, Mallory Weber and Lo'eau LaBonta all being turned away. But all those close calls meant nothing as the Red Stars celebrated the game-winner.
The two teams took a 1-1 draw into halftime after they traded goals in the final five minutes of the opening stanza.
Our playoff aspirations have ended in Chicago. Join us for a 2019 celebration back at the RioT on October 12. pic.twitter.com/FsmqWxmQev— Utah Royals FC (@UtahRoyalsFC) September 29, 2019
In the 40th minute, Chicago’s Vanessa DiBernardo took advantage of a weak Royals’ clearance attempt following a Chicago free-kick and blasted a shot past Barnhart from outside the penalty area.
It didn’t take long for the Royals to respond, though.
Just two minutes later, Gunny Jonsdottir sent a cross in the box that Press headed into the net. That seemed to awaken the Royals offense. Utah won a corner kick in the closing moments of the first half that resulted in Rodriguez heading the ball in the back of the net. But the goal was waved off after a foul was called on Stengel.
That offensive momentum carried over after the break with the Royals pressuring the Red Stars for much of the final 45 minutes — but it ended up being all in vain.
And as Nagasato, Kerr and the rest of the Red Stars celebrated the late breakthrough, the Royals walked off the field knowing their playoff chances were over.
The Royals had climbed up to as high as third in the NWSL standings, but have now lost their last four matches to fall out of the playoffs.
The Royals will play their final game of the season at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 12 against the Houston Dash.