So much offensive flair is chemistry. I think that it’s going to come. I’m pretty confident about that. —Utah Royals FC defender Kelley O’Hara
SANDY — Over the course of Utah Royals FC’s first two matches on the road, the only goal the squad surrendered was the penalty kick on an incorrect handball call against the Orlando Pride in the opener.
Such makes sense when one considers that defense has been the primary item of discussion in the early part of the season, but on the flip side, URFC has only scored one goal thus far, and that was in the third minute against the Pride.
As such, offensive improvement is the point of most importance for the club as it gets ready for its inaugural home opener Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Chicago Red Stars.
“Definitely the focus is to be better with the ball in the mid to final third,” head coach Laura Harvey said earlier this week. “It’s what we’ve been talking about and what we’ll continue to talk about I’m sure for the next couple of weeks.”
Players say that while defense is largely about tactics that can be picked up more quickly, having a potent attack is more about having chemistry that improves over time.
“I think going into the next game, it’s all about maintaining that high defensive presence but then also being more willing to go forward with the ball and take more chances,” said forward Katie Stengel, “and I think just learning to play with each other better helps that dynamic movement.”
Added defender Kelley O’Hara, who despite her positional designation was featured in the attack against Orlando before missing the game two weeks ago against the Houston Dash because of a left hamstring strain, “So much offensive flair is chemistry. I think that it’s going to come. I’m pretty confident about that.”
While O’Hara trained this week, she’s listed as questionable for Saturday because of the hamstring. On a very positive note, U.S. Women’s National Team forward Amy Rodriguez is officially available to play for the first time this season, almost exactly a year to the day she tore her ACL in the 2017 season opener with FC Kansas City, although it’s unclear exactly how she’ll be used Saturday.
Defender Becca Moros, who left the Houston game in the first half, will not play because the left calf strain she sustained is still holding her back. Brooke Elby came on for her against the Dash.
A factor that could go in favor of URFC’s offense is that the Red Stars have given up four goals so far this season, the most in the league, although they’re tied with the Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns for most goals scored with three.
Challenging for URFC could be the fact that some of the players who represented their countries during the recently completed international break didn’t get back to Utah until Wednesday after playing Monday and/or Tuesday, although Harvey said they’d all be available.
One player with local ties who will be available for the Red Stars is Michelle Vasconcelos, who prepped at Alta High School before starring at BYU.
With Saturday being the inaugural home opener, URFC paid to have players’ families come to Utah, and Rio Tinto Stadium is expected to essentially be at capacity.
“Obviously when you can get hopefully a full house, I think that brings its own energy,” Harvey said. “We have to put on something that they want to watch. I think that’s what our responsibility is, and I think from (the crowd), all we ask for is that they get behind us and be our 12th man.”
Start time is set for 1:30 p.m. MDT, and the game will be televised on Lifetime in addition to the usual outlets.