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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Utah Royals FC midfielder Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, Houston Dash midfielder Christine Nairn and Utah Royals FC midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta all go up for a header at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, May 11, 2019.

SANDY — Given how Utah Royals FC started the 2019 season with three consecutive 1-0 victories, things appeared to be setting up well on Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium when the home side scored on an Amy Rodriguez goal in the 29th minute against the Houston Dash.

Besides the actual goal, URFC looked crisp offensively and was preventing the Dash from generating much in their own attack. URFC head coach Laura Harvey went so far as to say postgame that “there was only one team in it” the first third of the contest.

But then the rest of the outing became a struggle in a couple of different areas, and URFC suffered its first loss of the season by a score of 2-1.

With the win, the Dash leapfrogged URFC for first place in the NWSL table entering Sunday’s action.

“From the 30-minute mark on, we just dropped our standard, and you can’t do that in this league,” Harvey said. “It’s unforgiving.”

Rodriguez put it more bluntly: “We were our own worst enemy today,” she said. “I felt like we took our foot off the gas pedal. We didn’t keep taking it to them. We’ve had a lot of bite these last few games, and today I don’t think we brought it.”

Houston got the equalizer in the 42nd minute as URFC center back Sam Johnson couldn’t handle a ball near the Dash goal. Houston’s Rachel Daly pounced on it, leaving URFC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart exposed, and Daly capitalized with a strike into the left side of the net from right at the 18-yard line.

In the 50th minute, a somewhat similar scenario played out as Houston’s Ari Romero delivered a through ball to Daly and URFC had to scramble back toward Barnhart to try to offer some resistance, but it was to no avail as Daly again put the ball in the left side of the net.

“We pride ourselves on being hard to beat. We pride ourselves on defending in a way that makes it difficult for teams, and we didn’t do that,” Harvey said.

Some of the defensive challenges came as a result of rather strange giveaways near the goal, which forced scrambling to try to prevent goals.

“Good teams will capitalize on that,” said midfielder Mandy Laddish, who made her first start since 2016 as she continues to return to full fitness after severe hip problems kept her out for two full seasons. “Rachel Daly’s a fantastic finisher, and if you let her shoot, she’s going to score.”

If there was a bright spot on the day for URFC, it was the play of midfielder Vero Boquete. In the 28th minute, Boquete got the ball in the home side’s defensive third and slithered her way around the Dash defense and up the right side of the field, something she did numerous times throughout the afternoon.

With multiple Houston defenders trying to stop the Spaniard, the rest of the field was left rather open, and when Boquete had just crossed midfield she advanced the ball to a charging Rodriguez, who outran her defender and slid the ball past Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell and into the net.

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“Vero’s so good on the ball,” Rodriguez said. “She’s a great midfielder to play with because she attracts so many defenders to her. Players start watching her and the ball and it enables me to make runs off of her.”

In that same thought, though, Rodriguez couldn’t help but talk about the loss.

“The goals that they scored over our goal, it just makes me angry because we should have won the game and we didn’t,” she said. “Our first loss of the season does not feel good, and we’re going to have to come back even better next weekend.”

Up next for URFC is a road game next Sunday against the defending National Women’s Soccer League champion North Carolina Courage.