SANDY, Utah — Playing to 0-0 draw at home isn’t exactly exciting, especially for the announced 8,529 fans in attendance, but against the North Carolina Courage (14-1-4), the top team in the NWSL, it’s an outcome the Utah Royals FC (5-6-7) will take after dropping their previous three matches.
The Courage have proven to be a hard team to compete with and has only one loss this season. That one loss, however, came at the hands of the Utah Royals, and URFC has now played the Courage to two of its four draws this season, too. The way head coach Laura Harvey is approaching these matches with North Carolina is working, and her her squad earned a point Friday night in Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I said to the players this week, ‘We have to use this North Carolina game as a single game on its own,’ because if we didn’t lose, then we’re going to do something that no other team in the league has done — and that’s not be defeated by North Carolina,” Harvey said. “Everyone’s lost to them, so this game is one where you isolate it on its own.”
Although the game wasn’t filled with too much offensive prowess, the Royals defense was lights out. Rachel Corsie came up in a big way in the 88th minute as she slid to stop a potential game-winning goal from the Courage.
Moments later, a Katie Bowen header kept North Carolina from scoring. But the woman of the match was Nicole Barnhart — making her first start of the year in the place of an injured Abby Smith — with four saves.
Barnhart’s most notable save was in the sixth minute, when she batted the ball away with her right arm extended all the way out. She came up with another one in the 14th minute, jumping above everyone else in the box to haul in the ball. Barnhart claimed her third save in the 53rd minute when she got a strike in the center of the box, and her final save of the night came in stoppage time.
Defender Becca Moros thought Barnhart blended seamlessly with the starting lineup.
“She’s incredibly professional, she didn’t skip a beat and you wouldn’t know this was her first game in a while,” Moros said. “She was awesome, her communication is great. She’s very composed and calm, and she’s just a phenomenal shot-stopper.”
The Royals had a solid opportunity to score in the 32nd minute when they got the ball in the box, but a slightly mistimed pass allowed North Carolina to get on top of the ball. In the 52nd minute, the Royals let a pass slip through in the box and were fortunate the Courage didn’t take advantage.
Harvey didn’t like the way the team played in the first half, and even after talking to her players about turning it up a notch in the second half, she knew one point was going to be all the team could ask for in the end. She was happy the team held steady, but players remained disappointed they couldn’t take more from the game.
“I think we could have got three points,” Bowen said. “In the first half, we didn’t execute our game plan that we’ve been practicing and training the past three days, so we were pretty annoyed about that.”
Overall, the Royals held 59.6 percent of possession.
URFC also played without stars Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christen Press. The trio was called up to the United State women’s national team camp ahead of the Tournament of Nations.
Because of the Tournament of Nations, the Royals won’t have a game next weekend, but they will be back in action on the road against the Houston Dash on Saturday Aug. 5.