SANDY — Score. Play stifling defense. Repeat.
Utah Royals FC followed its typical 2019 script to form Saturday night, building a lead and making it stand with tough defense as URFC grabbed the 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Amy Rodriguez gave the Royals the early 1-0 lead, scoring in the 16th minute for her fifth goal in six games.
“This year she’s just been phenomenal, honestly," Royals head coach Laura Harvey said of Rodriguez. "I think that her work rate, her ability to move, how threatening she is when she goes forward — it’s not many people in this league who can score a goal like she did tonight.”
Rodriguez took possession on URFC’s side of the field, then went on a long run before arching a left-footed shot into the top right corner of the goal to put the Royals ahead. It's the fourth 1-0 victory for URFC this season, through eight games.
“I had no idea that I had gotten it so deep. I just remember it being a quick throw in, maybe a pass or two and then I just kind of carried with it," Rodriguez said. "I felt like the (Sky Blue) defense kind of sat off me a little bit. I just took my space, head up and thought I could go for it. I honestly didn’t think I could score from there, but I just tried my best on it and happy that it hit the back of the net.”
Royals goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart earned the shutout, making five saves on the night. Both teams had limited scoring opportunities in the second half of what was a fairly even battle, with Sky Blue owning a slight edge in possession, while the Royals had six shots on goal to five for the visitors. Six of URFC's nine shots were on frame.
“I think for the most part our back line was very organized. The chances they got were mostly from outside the 18, nothing too close to the goal," Barnhart said. "Our back line was willing to put their bodies on the line a couple times and block a few dangerous chances that they did get. I think it was just a gritty effort all over, starting from the front to the back line.”
With six Royals players in France competing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, URFC (5-2-1) returned to action for the first time since the World Cup began and improved to 4-1-0 at home. With the win, URFC jumped to second in the National Women's Soccer League standings with 16 points, trailing only the Washington Spirit.
Sky Blue, meanwhile, extended its road winless streak to 16 games and dropped to 0-6-2 on the year.
Rodriguez’s goal came after URFC missed on a pair of earlier opportunities to score, from Verónica Boquete in the sixth minute and Rodriguez in the 11th. Samantha Johnson nearly doubled the home team’s lead in the 37th minute, but her header off a well-placed corner went high.
Barnhart stifled one of Sky Blue’s best opportunities to score in the 44th minute, when the Royals’ Rebecca Moros was called for a foul on Paige Monaghan just outside the box. Raquel Rodriguez cleared the wall with her shot on the ensuing free kick, but Barnhart made a diving stop in the bottom right corner to keep Sky Blue off the scoreboard.Comment on this story
URFC lost Boquete to a right ankle injury in the first half. After going down in the 24th minute, she briefly returned to cheers from the crowd, only to be subbed out for Mallory Weber in the 36th minute.
“I said to the girls at the end in the huddle, ‘Sometimes you win pretty, sometimes you win ugly, sometimes you grind it out.’ ... Definitely not the performance we wanted, but win your home games,” Harvey said.
Notes: The team will be hosting a World Cup watch party Sunday at the Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman for the United States' game against Chile. Game time is 10 a.m. MT, with doors and concession stands opening at the academy at 9 a.m. Tickets to the event are free.