For the first time ever, the Utah Royals are atop the NWSL.
With their second straight 1-0 victory to start the season, URFC (2-0-0) became the only team to open the season with six points. Prior to today, the highest the second-year club had been was fourth place in the nine-team league.
Conversely, the Pride (0-3-1) haven’t recorded a victory in 10 matches, a streak that spans all the way back to when they defeated Utah 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 14.
For the second week in a row, the Royals got an early goal. This one came when Christen Press knocked down a cross from Michelle Maemone, turned and bounced a shot to the far post to for her first goal of the season. The goal was enough for URFC to win 1-0 at Orlando City Stadium.
“It’s why we traded for her," Royals FC coach Laura Harvey said. "She seems and understands the game and the girl can score goals. She creates opportunities for other players and scores goals for herself. She’s kicking herself that she didn’t score more, that’s her."
The left-footed shot did not have much power, but it was enough to get it by Pride goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, who was filling in for Ashlyn Harris. Harris suffered an injury while warming up for the match.
Kopmeyer redeemed herself in stoppage time in the first half, standing strong to stop a 1-on-1 chance from Amy Rodriguez to keep the Pride in this game.
Orlando’s best chance in the first half was a tight-angle shot by that Royals goalkeeper Nichol Barnhart trapped, hockey-style with her legs. The league’s oldest player was especially strong in the air, punching and catching balls sent toward the goal area.
“Orlando threw a lot at us," URFC captain Becky Sauerbrunn said. "I thought Barnhart did amazing especially on free kicks and corner kicks and I thought we were scrappy at times. We take a lot of pride in getting the clean sheet and with these clean sheets we set the tone and hopefully while the internationals are gone they can carry it on.”
While the second half produces no goals, each team had several chances. One of the best came to Orlando in the 74th minute when Alanna Kennedy couldn’t quite get a touch on a pass that went through the goal area. Kennedy also had several strong header shots on goal, but Barnhart was up to the challenge each time.Comment on this story
Marta also had a free kick just outside the box late in the match, but put it just over the bar.
The Royals next host the Chicago Red Stars on Friday at 7:30 p.m. They will be without several players, including captain Sauerbrunn, as they’ll leave the club to prepare for the World Cup.
“The mentality doesn’t change," Harvey said. "As long as we keep doing the basics right, I think we have to keep taking care of business. We know there will be losses of players in the side, but we’ll keep getting better. It’s now time for other people to shine."