I don’t think there’s ever a time where you’ll question our work ethic and that type of thing, but I think the thing for us is we just have to be better on the ball. —Utah Royals FC coach Laura Harvey
SANDY — In a sense, Utah Royals FC’s inaugural home opener Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Red Stars at Rio Tinto Stadium was a microcosm of the first five months of the club’s existence.
Since the franchise came to the Beehive State from Kansas City in November, there’s been a great deal of excitement from supporters, although URFC’s 0-0-2 start had left coach Laura Harvey and players wanting more entering this week.
Despite the start, anticipation reached a fever pitch this week as the RioT sold out, and 19,302 fans, a large majority of whom were decked out in Royals gold, indeed showed up Saturday in hopes of seeing the new team grab its first victory.
However, the same challenges that have prevented the Royals from picking up three points in either of their first two contests returned, as a 27th-minute strike from Chicago midfielder Danielle Colaprico was the only score of the afternoon, resulting in a 1-0 loss for the home side.
“I don’t think there’s ever a time where you’ll question our work ethic and that type of thing, but I think the thing for us is we just have to be better on the ball,” Harvey said. “We have to find the areas of the field where the space was, ‘cause there was some, but we didn’t find it well enough.”
In all, Harvey’s club actually outshot the Red Stars 13-10 thanks in good part to another solid defensive performance, but two of the road squad’s shots were on goal, while just one for the home team was.
Colaprico’s goal came after URFC didn’t fully clear a shot in the 18-yard box, and the ball went right to the midfielder just outside it. Rather than reset, she rifled a shot to the top right corner of the goal where Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith couldn’t reach it.
“I think in this league you don’t get tons of chances, and when you do, you gotta score,” Harvey said. “They got a decent chance and it was a great finish, and we had a couple of good chances but couldn’t finish.”
Defender Kelley O’Hara, who played just the first 45 minutes because of the strained hamstring that has continued to bother her for a few weeks, bluntly said the offensive performance was “not great. I think we need to be a lot better on the ball collectively, but it’s early in the season, and that’s part of the process, working through that, and just learning each other’s tendencies.”
Arguably the brightest spot of the day for the Royals came in the 77th minute when U.S. Women’s National Team striker Amy Rodriguez came on, marking her first action in almost a year after she tore her ACL in the 2017 season opener.
Just 11 minutes later, “ARod” produced Utah’s lone shot on goal of the afternoon.
“Hurry up and get fit,” Harvey said when asked to assess Rodriguez’s short stint. “Hurry up and get to 90 minutes as quickly as possible.”
As much as players were disappointed by what happened on the field, they had the exact opposite feelings about the crowd, the size of which was just about 2,400 fewer fans than Kansas City got over the course of the entire 2017 season.
“Obviously not the result we wanted,” O’Hara said. “We want to give the fans wins every time they come here, especially the number that we got today, and that’s my whole focus going forward. I think it’s the team’s as well.”
The Royals will hit the road again for their next match, which will come next Saturday against the North Carolina Courage, set for 1:30 p.m. MT.
“I think now we’ve got a good opportunity to be together for a long period of time to really iron these cracks at the minute, because I think we’re a hard team to beat,” Harvey said. “I think that we know that, but we now have to be better in terms of us on the ball and being a little bit more of a threat going forward. It’ll come.”