The buzz leading to Saturday’s inaugural home match for Utah Royals FC turned into a high-energy atmosphere on the day with an announced crowd of 19,203, the eighth largest in NWSL history and a record for a women’s soccer match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
But the visiting Chicago Red Stars (1-1-1, 4 points) gave those fans little to celebrate as they defeated the Royals (0-1-2, 2 points) 1-0.
Danielle Colaprico handed Chicago victory in the 27th minute when she controlled the ball and fired from the top of the box. Her shot soared under the crossbar, just out of reach of Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith.
“The atmosphere is unreal, it’s awesome,” Colaprico said. “The only other place we really experienced that is Portland, so it’s great to see that the league is growing. It was amazing being out there and it’s very surreal.
“It’s okay to be nervous as long as you control the nerves and use them the right way. Everyone came out and just tried to put that in the back of their head and didn’t really think about it. We came here to get three points, and that’s what we did.”
In the first half, Chicago stayed compact and picked apart Utah’s defense. Five minutes before Colaprico scored, she nearly grabbed an assist when she got the ball to teammate Yuki Nagasato, who unleashed a left-footed shot that pinged off the left post.
— Chicago Red Stars (@chiredstarsPR) April 14, 2018
Both sides entered halftime with five shots total, but the Red Stars controlled the half with more cohesive play compared to their expansion opponent and the lone shot on goal was Colaprico’s score.
Early in the second half, Utah’s Lo’eau LaBonta cleared a ball off the line that prevented Chicago from taking two-goal lead.
The Royals began pressuring more as the second half progressed, and Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher played high and was forced to run off the line a couple times to prevent dangerous shots. In the 56th minute, Royals midfielder Gunnhildur Yrsa Jonsdottir forced Naeher to make the only save of the night when she received a pass from teammate Diana Matheson and sent a shot toward the bottom right corner of the net.
After a few minutes of constant attack in Chicago’s box around the 67th minute, Utah forward Elise Thorsnes broke free and charged goal but was called offside.
“With this team, and honestly with the women’s game generally, you’re going to get hard work, you’re going to get effort, you’re going to get people who put absolutely everything into the game,” Utah head coach Laura Harvey said. “I don’t think there is ever a time where you question work ethic. The thing for us is we have to be better on the ball, and we have to find areas on the field where the space was. I think in this league you don’t get tons of chances, and when you do you’ve got to score. They got a decent chance and it was great finish and we had a couple of chances but couldn’t finish. So, if you look at the story of the game, that was probably it.”
Harvey called the game “frantic,” and said her team made a couple wrong decisions in key moment. She also thought the Royals could have been better at getting behind Chicago’s high line.
The home crowd continued to cheer on its new team, hoping to spur a comeback, and gave a loud round of applause to Amy Rodriguez when she subbed on for Matheson in the 77th minute. It was Rodriguez’ first NWSL match since tearing her ACL almost exactly a year ago.
No, you're emotional over Amy Rodriguez running onto the pitch she deserves. She deserves nearly 20,000 fans to welcome her back to the game.
— Mikala Paula (@mikalapaula) April 14, 2018
Rodriguez got to work immediately, creating chances and hustling to beat opponents to the ball. The Royals controlled more possession as time ticked away, but could not find an equalizer through 90 minutes plus four minutes of stoppage time.
Chicago returns home to host the Houston Dash in a Wednesday night matchup, while Utah hits the road to take on the No. 1 North Carolina Courage next Saturday.
“We play again Wednesday against a team that didn’t have to play this weekend, with the same 16 healthy players we have today,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “Our biggest thing is to get healthy, get to the next game, we obviously have to get some rotation for the Wednesday game.”