The Orlando Pride take on the Utah Royals for the third and final time this season. The Royals have won both of the previous games this season but both matches were close — 1-0 on April 27 and 2-0 on May 25. This will be the first time that the teams have faced each other since the end of the World Cup. Orlando is 3-3-0 in the last six games while the Royals sit on a two-match win streak after a six-match winless streak.
Utah recently ended a six-game losing streak. What happened during that losing streak, and have the Royals turned the corner?
Lucas Muller: It seems like the impact of losing their national team players hit Utah Royals harder than most other teams. The Royals had built their success on a solid defense, but with the loss of Desiree Scott and Becky Sauerbrunn, the back line struggled. As the team came back together, it seemed clear that things took a few games to gel again.
The biggest issue for the Royals in their history is the ability to score goals. With Christen Press back and clearly full of confidence, they’ve scored three goals in each of their last two games. It’s been a lot of fun to watch, and the attack is simply working. Vero Boquete, the team’s Spanish play maker, was injured for a stretch and that certainly had an effect on the team’s ability to be a threat in the final third. With her healthy and Press in incredible form, the team is looking much better than three weeks ago.
Utah has allowed just 15 goals this season, tied for the best in the league. How has its defense been so good?
LM: Becky Sauerbrunn is arguably the best defender in the world and she is so good at both knowing how to position herself, but also commanding the back line. The Royals’ best back four is Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Corsie, and Katie Bowen. All those players are on their national teams and all four played in the World Cup. When they left, rookies like Michelle Maemone and Gaby Vincent did an incredible job stepping up. It also helps to have Nicole Barnhart in goal. Barnhart is still an incredible player and would have been called up for pretty much any national team in the world.
Other than Amy Rodriguez and Christen Press, who is the most threatening attacking player?
LM: That’s a tough question to answer. There’s a big drop-off in number of goals scored after those two. My first thought would be Katie Stengel, who was the team’s leading goal scorer in 2018. She’s only netted one goal this season, but has played in a deeper role recently than her center forward position we saw last season. Lo LaBonta has two goals to her name this year and has really taken her game to another level in the last few weeks. Newcomer Mallory Weber could also be a real scoring threat. She recently signed from the Thorns and has played well, even if she has yet to register a goal.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection on Saturday? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
LM: Utah’s injury report has Brittany Ratcliffe, Taylor Lytle, Becca Moros, Kelley O’Hara all listed as out, with Mandy Laddish listed as questionable. I think the Royals scrape together a 2-1 win. Here’s my predicted lineup:
Goalkeeper: Nicole Barnhart.
Defenders: Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie, Becky Sauerbrunn, Mallory Weber.
Midfielders: Desiree Scott, Lo’Eau LaBonta, Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, Veronica Boquete.
Forwards: Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez.
Let’s all give thanks to Lucas for stopping by and giving us the breakdown on the Royals.