When we knew Kelley couldn’t play, I knew very early that I thought this game could be one for Erika. —Royals head coach Laura Harvey
SANDY — Coming into Saturday afternoon’s match between Utah Royals FC and the Houston Dash at Rio Tinto Stadium, one of the key questions for the home side was how it would compensate for the absence of U.S. Women’s National Team stalwart Kelley O’Hara, who was out because of a right hamstring strain.
As it turned out, it was Erika Tymrak’s chance to prove the old concept true of the importance of always staying ready.
Tymrak, who has been a regular substitute for URFC but never gotten in head coach Laura Harvey’s starting lineup, replaced O’Hara and her goal in the 51st minute was the difference-maker as URFC closed a four-game homestand with a 1-0 victory over the Dash in front of 8,323 fans.
“When we knew Kelley couldn’t play, I knew very early that I thought this game could be one for Erika,” Harvey said afterward. “She’s worked really hard in training. Today’s game was about how good we could be on the ball, and I know that that’s Erika’s game. Finding the pockets of space in between back line and midfield is where she’s at her best.”
After a first half in which URFC dominated every statistic but couldn’t find the net, midfielder Gunny Jonsdottir won the ball in the home side’s defending third early in the second frame.
With the way Houston defends by not pressing, Jonsdottir had open space down the right side of the field before getting marked as she approached the 18-yard box. She had the chance to pass to Amy Rodriguez at the top of the box with Tymrak to her left, but instead of receiving the ball, Rodriguez let it go toward Tymrak.
A defender was to Tymrak's right with Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell hugging the right side of the net, but with her left side open, Tymrak received the ball with her right foot and immediately sent it toward the bottom left corner of the net where Campbell couldn’t get to it.
“Honestly, she’s just the type of player that’s going to attract so many defenders and the attention, which was great because it kind of left me open,” Tymrak said of Rodriguez. “Honestly we practice finishing so much in practice, I think it was kind of she knew that she couldn’t get the best shot off and left it for me.”
Harvey added that Rodriguez’s decision to bypass the shot to give Tymrak a crack at it was “world class. Amy Rodriguez is world class. I don’t think she believes that not many people would do that, but not many people would do that.”
Tymrak acknowledged that it’s been challenging for her to be primarily a sub through the first third of the season, which made getting the goal sweeter.
“I came on, and I just wanted to help the team out, and it felt great getting a goal, but I really think that the team played awesome,” she said. “We played 90 minutes of good football, and we can’t ask for much more than that.”
Indeed, URFC outshot the Dash 18-7 (including a 5-0 advantage in shots on goal) and finished with nearly 64 percent of the possession. The afternoon also marked URFC’s third consecutive clean sheet and fourth overall through eight matches.
“They have a very pacey front line, and we knew that they were going to hurt us on a counter if we gave them any time or space, so that was really one of our big goals,” midfielder Desiree Scott said. “Really just not giving them any momentum going forward, and I think that was just a focus all week, and we definitely brought it today and contained them, which is awesome.”
URFC will now play four consecutive road games before returning home for a June 27 matchup against the Seattle Reign.
First up is a date next Friday against the Portland Thorns.
“I think (the win) gives us really momentum not only from a three points standpoint, but as just playing really, really good soccer,” Tymrak said. “We’re excited to head to Portland. It’s a really fun place to play, and hopefully we can bring home three points.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez as Houston Dash midfielder Claire Falknor in a photo caption.