The Utah Royals kept their playoff hopes alive Wednesday with a 1-0 win at home against the Washington Spirit.
Royals Forward Katie Stengel scored a late second-half goal to secure three points and hand Washington its seventh consecutive loss. The Spirit have lost every game this season after conceding the first goal and maintain the worst away record in the league at 0-9-2.
Utah outplayed Washington, starting quickly and delivering high pressure. The Royals boasted 18 shots to the Spirit’s four, none of which were on target.
Royals forward Christen Press tallied a team-high five shots and came close to a goal in the first half, challenging Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Fellow United States women’s national teammate Amy Rodriguez also made it a tough night for Bledsoe.
Within the first 10 minutes, Rodriguez went down inside the box on a controversial no-call.
The Spirit managed to maintain a clean sheet in the first half, thanks in large part to its league-leading keeper.
Utah spoiled the Spirit’s clean sheet in the 74th minute. Substitute Taylor Lytle sent a long pass forward, which was dummied by fellow sub Diana Matheson before reaching a sprinting Stengel.
Stengel took a touch and finished the shot for her second consecutive game-winning goal.
Spirit defender Taylor Smith made a stoppage-time push to find an equalizer, but Utah defender Rachel Corsie had other ideas and used her body to block the shot.
The Royals now enter an important stretch of games, starting with a quick turnaround Sunday against Megan Rapinoe and the second-place Seattle Reign.
The top four teams in the league qualify for the playoffs with the top two teams getting home-field advantage. The North Carolina Courage has a spot locked up with 49 points in 20 matches, but Utah still has a fighting chance to catch the Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC or Chicago Red Stars — who sit in 3rd, 4th and 5th, respectively.
Eliminated from playoff contention, the Spirit are playing for pride and possibly already looking to next season.
With a quick turnaround from the weekend match, coach Jim Gabarra made a necessary shift to his lineup against Utah. Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh and Andi Sullivan played together for the first time since May 27. Pugh played just 30 minutes as she continues to slowly return from a PCL sprain to her right knee.
Utah hosts the Reign Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET for its third game of the week, while the Spirit get a short break before traveling to the Houston Dash Aug. 17 at 8:30 p.m.