SANDY — Someone stomped on Laura Harvey’s foot, but she didn’t entirely mind.
After the first 45 minutes of Utah Royals FC’s season finale Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Chicago Red Stars, the home side trailed 1-0 thanks to a header from NWSL goal scoring leader Sam Kerr. More generally, the team wasn’t sharp as it played in a game that didn’t have serious implications for either squad, since URFC was eliminated from playoff contention and the Red Stars had secured the fourth seed.
But, in front of 11,851 fans, URFC came out a different team in the second stanza and equalized on a 55th-minute goal from Amy Rodriguez, then took the lead in the 64th off a header from Katie Stengel and held on for the 2-1 victory to close out the 2018 campaign with a 9-7-8 record and a fifth-place finish in the NWSL.
Immediately after Rodriguez’s goal, the U.S. Women’s National Team veteran ran over to her team’s bench and embraced Harvey instead of celebrating with her teammates on the field. That soon turned into a group celebration, which led to Harvey’s “injury” from an unknown source.
“I’m just happy that they responded,” Harvey said after the game. “I asked for it at halftime. I asked for a response. I asked for them to show how much it means to play in front of this crowd and how much it means to put on this jersey, because I didn’t feel we showed that passion in the first half, and I felt we did in the second half.
Said Stengel, who finished the season with the team lead in goals with six (she and Rodriguez were tied for nine minutes with five apiece), “We gave the ball away too easily in the first half, and second half, we came out and knew we had to fight to get back. We needed an early goal to get back in it so we had a chance for a second winner.”
While URFC played more forward in the second half, Harvey felt it was that fight more than any adjustment that allowed her side to get back in it and come out on top.
“Tactics and X's and O's and all that stuff’s important, but if you don’t have that to match it—the desire and work ethic—it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s unforgiving in this league to think you can get away with that. I think the reward of the two goals were hard work and good play.”
As has been URFC’s custom throughout the season, players walked around the field after the win shouting the Icelandic “Utah! Royals! FC!” Icelandic clap. For Harvey, those moments served as both a time to reflect on this inaugural season as well as motivation for the future.Comment on this story
“It’s hard to describe what that thing’s like at the end with the Icelandic clap,” she said. “You just stand there for one second and think, ‘I get paid to do this. This is my job,’ but you only get that if you work hard, and you don’t just get anything for free in this league, and I’m just really glad that they, as a group, got together and switched it on a little bit in the second half.”
For Stengel, it was significant that she and her teammates came away with the win in the finale after falling to Chicago in the home opener back in April.
“To end the season on a much higher note,” she observed, “is the whole point of the game.”