SANDY — This wasn’t how Utah Royals FC expected to end their second season on the Wasatch Front.
A strong start paved way for a solid run during the FIFA Women’s World Cup, when three of the club’s top players were with the United States in France, and seven players missing from the lineup for international duty.
But the season fizzled down the stretch, and as the losses piled up — there was the 2-1 loss at Houston, then a 3-0 defeat against league power North Carolina, and finally a 2-1 setback at Chicago in a game that helped clinch the Red Stars’ own postseason ambitions with a top-two league finish — the inevitable became the reality.
Just like that, Utah’s season was done.
Four teams in the nine-team National Women’s Soccer League make the playoffs. And for the second-straight season, head coach Laura Harvey’s side won’t be one of them.
“At the end of the day, we knew it would be tough,” Utah defender Rachel Corsie said glumly after the match at Chicago. “We weren’t good enough, and the result obviously ends the season with disappointment.”
So what’s left to play for Utah Royals FC (9-10-4, 31 points), who will send off a once-promising 2019 campaign into the sunset Saturday against former Alta High star Kealia Ohai and the Houston Dash (7 p.m. MDT, KSL.com & Yahoo Sports)?
There’s always pride, a secondary (or tertiary … or even quaternary) consolation prize in professional sports.
But the Royals feel a need to end the season on a high note, especially to eradicate the feelings of despair and disappointment that have permeated the club since Sept. 13, when the streak began.
So Saturday’s game matters, if for nothing more than the fans, the current players’ job security, and the collective psyche of the second-year franchise’s roster.
“As a team, we want to finish on a good note,” Utah forward Amy Rodriguez said. “We want to leave the season with a good taste in our mouth, and I think that would come with a big win over Houston this weekend.”
There was no satisfaction in Rodriguez’s voice as she uttered those words, no attempt to paint lipstick on a pig to try and spin the final weeks of a season that fell apart in such an awful way.
But in a season that began with positive results in eight of their first 10 matches, that may be the best way to describe how the Royals' 2019 campaign finished: spinning, sputtering and falling apart as North Carolina, Chicago, Portland and Reign FC rose to the top of the league and into the NWSL playoffs.
It was a spot that the Royals wanted so desperately to be — but they’ll have to wait until next year for another shot at the postseason.
And in many ways, next year begins now for Utah Royals FC.
“I don’t think that any of us are feeling like we accomplished what we set out to do,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re going to be a unit at this game, and that’s what is most important. At this point now, we’re building towards season season.”
NWSL: Utah Royals FC (9-10-4) vs. Houston Dash (7-11-5)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. MDT, Rio Tinto Stadium
Radio: ESPN 700