We wanted to see a reward for the fans. They’ve given so much already, and we’ve had too many games at home now without a win, so it was just a way to thank them mostly. —Utah Royals FC forward Diana Matheson
SANDY — Finally.
After five matches, four of which ended in a draw amid mounting frustration, Utah Royals FC picked up its first win Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, beating the Washington Spirit 2-0.
The manner in which URFC came up with the shutout was impressive, as forward Kelley O’Hara scored in the seventh minute, fellow forward Diana Matheson added another goal in the 66th minute, and Abby Smith registered her second clean sheet of the season thanks in large part to a strong defensive performance against a high-powered Spirit attack.
“I think, honestly, with the performance, it was just really pleased because I thought we deserved it,” URFC head coach Laura Harvey said of the feeling of getting the club’s first win. “I think you could see from the players afterward that it means a lot to get the first win. I’m glad we did it when we were at home.”
Matheson echoed those sentiments about getting the first three points at the RioT in front of a crowd of 7,551.
“We wanted to see a reward for the fans,” she said. “They’ve given so much already, and we’ve had too many games at home now without a win, so it was just a way to thank them mostly.”
The Canadian Women’s National Team member certainly gave a lot during the match, as she was a key contributor to both goals. First, she won the ball on a slide tackle near midfield and sent it deep to Amy Rodriguez in the middle of the field just above the 18-yard box.
O’Hara came rushing in from the wing, her U.S. Women’s National teammate Rodriguez led her with a “perfect ball” into the box, and O’Hara put it into the bottom right corner of the net past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, the NWSL’s leader in saves.
Then, in the 66th minute, with the Spirit having gotten some life out of halftime after the home side dominated the first 45 minutes, Matheson won another ball thanks to a sliding challenge, this time in URFC’s attacking third. No Washington defender was in the vicinity, so Bledsoe came up to challenge Matheson just outside the box.
With little time to spare, Matheson chipped the ball past Bledsoe and actually got knocked to the ground by the goalkeeper as the ball slowly rolled into the net.
“I think I looked up enough to see that it was most likely going in the goal,” Matheson said. “I pretty much had my head down, and then I think I just heard the crowd that it had gone in at that point.”
For the night, URFC finished with five shots on goal compared to just one for a Spirit team that had scored seven times through five matches entering Saturday.
“I think Laura has an expectation that this team defends hard, and that starts at the front with (the forwards), and I definitely want to be the type of player who’s trying to set the example for others out there, so I just try and go out and do that,” Matheson said.
Added Smith: “The season’s a long season, so we have to make sure that our defensive mindset’s right the whole time, and I feel like we kept it going this entire game.”
URFC won’t have much time to bask in this first victory, as it plays the Orlando Pride on Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in one of five midweek matches it will have this season.
The two sides have played each other already this season, finishing the March 24 season opener in a 1-1 draw in Orlando.