The Utah Royals keeps their playoff dreams alive with a 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit. Despite the late-season reset with new interim coach Tom Torres, the Spirit could not find a way to break their 13-game losing streak.
The Royals entered the match with a mindset to match the rejuvenated Spirit, and opened scoring in the 12th minute thanks to an attacking formation. With midfielder Katie Stengel playing in the No. 10 position behind forward Christian Press, the flanks opened up for Taylor Lytle and Amy Rodriguez. Rodriguez gave the Spirit particular trouble, and rebounded her own shot to give Utah the early lead.
Second-to-last-place Spirit entered the game with a new energy after the announcement of the termination of coach Jim Gabarra. The fresh start was a must for the Spirit, who finished in last place in the 2017 season and a dismal 2018 season. Despite the new look on the sideline, the Spirit failed to add a turnaround win against the Royals.
Torres’ first move as interim coach was to switch out typical starting goalkeeper Aubry Bledsoe for Didi Haracic. Before the game against the Royals, Bledsoe had only missed two matches. Haracic saved 10 of Utah’s 11 shots on goal.
A positive for the Spirit was that national team star Mallory Pugh played the most minutes she has played since her injury in May. Pugh lined up along side Andi Sulivan and Rose Lavelle in the midfield for just the third time this season. She almost had an assist for the equalizer in the last 30 minutes, but Royals defender Becky Sauerbrunn was able to get in front of the shot.
The Spirit limited Utah’s offensive threat in the second half, but failed to test Royals goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. The Spirit recorded just two shots–none of which were on target.
Press almost added an insurance goal in the 71st minute cutting a ball back inside the penalty box catching Estelle Johnson off balance. Press shot went just wide of the goal. She made an identical play with the same result ten minutes later.
In addition to points in the standings, Utah saw the return of a key to the attack in Kelley O’Hara. O’Hara, who is working back from a hamstring injury, entered the game in the 76th minute for goalscorer Rodriguez.
The game was about small victories for the Spirit Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Royals walk away with three points in the standings, and a leap up the table to fourth place above Chicago Red Stars and Orlando Pride.