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North Carolina Courage

Utah Royals prove to be North Carolina’s kryptonite

The Utah Royals has pushed the first-place North Carolina frequently this season. (Courtesy of NWSL)

SANDY, Utah — Here are three things we learned from the Utah Royals FC 0-0 draw with the North Carolina Courage.

1. Utah is North Carolina’s kryptonite

The North Carolina Courage are by far and away the best team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). With 46 points this season, the Courage is comfortably in first place — the Seattle Reign is in second with 29 points. But for some reason, Utah continues to give the frontrunners trouble.

North Carolina’s lone loss this season came at the hands of the Royals, and after Friday night’s game, the Royals have played North Carolina to two of its four draws. Whatever RSL head coach Laura Harvey is doing to get her team ready for the best squad in the league is working wonders.

“I’m really happy we’ve played these guys three times and not lost,” Harvey said. “That’s a big statement. We’ve now got to do some of the similar things we did tonight against the teams that are close around us.”

2. The Royals fared just fine without its star players

Head coach Laura Harvey has been vocal about her dismay regarding the early call-ups for players for the United States Women’s National Team. Players called to training camp ahead of the Tournament of Nations were not eligible to play in the NWSL this weekend, so that meant the Royals were going to have to face the best team in the league without its best players. Captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy Rodriguez and Christen Press were absent from Friday’s game, but the Royals didn’t seem to miss a beat.

Though Harvey was disappointed by her team’s performance in the first half, the Royals ultimately stepped up to the challenge. And while having a different goalie could have left URFC exposed, Nicole Barnhart pulled through, just as everyone else did on the team.

3. Barnhart still has game

With Abby Smith sidelined because of an injury, Barnhart got the start at goalkeeper, and though she hasn’t seen the pitch much this season — she played 18 minutes against the Orlando Pride last weekend and played an entire game at the beginning of June — she came prepared for a team that knows how to score and how to win.

Barnhart came up with a couple of brilliant saves in the first half of the game to keep this even, and she never showed any signs of letting off. Though North Carolina did miss some good opportunities, Barnhart held her own throughout the game as she ended the night with four saves.

“She’s an ultra-professional, she knows exactly what it takes to play at this level,” Harvey said. “She’s pushing Abby every day, and you saw tonight, she’s experienced. … She knows when to control the game, she knows when the play quick, when to slow the game down. … We feel super confident having them both back there.”

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