With both teams equal on points, Wednesday night’s battle between Reign FC and Utah Royals FC is stacking up to be one of the most important games of the year. There are just four matches remaining this regular season, which means every point matters from here on out.
The match kicks off at 7 PM PT. The last time these two teams faced off, the Reign were demolished 3-1 at home. Can we expect the same result this time around?
Lucas Muller from RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions to help you prepare.
1) That must have been a frustrating loss last weekend for the Royals. What went wrong for Utah against the Houston Dash?
The Royals’ loss to the Houston Dash was frustrating. They’re not a particularly good team, but they’ve beat Utah each of the two times the teams have met this season, including once at Rio Tinto Stadium. It seems like [Dash head coach James] Clarkson has the Royals figured out. They were able to mark Christen Press so effectively that she felt invisible for most of the match. Utah struggled to connect the ball to the attack. Utah had more possession at 55%, but simply could not get the ball to Press or A-Rod in dangerous areas. Amy Rodriguez’s passing accuracy was 43% and Press was at 60%. It seemed as though they were marked out of the game entirely.
On the other side of the field, both goals came from defensive mistakes. The first Dash goal was a bit of a scramble, but URFC players were not in a good shape to deal with an unlucky bounce and it was almost a 3-v-2 situation with the Dash having numbers on Utah. The second goal was a failure of keeping the backline level with one another, which would’ve put Dash goal-scorer Sofia Huerta offside. Becky Sauerbrunn and Mallory Weber were never able to recover and prevent her shot.
2) Like the Reign, Utah plays again this weekend. Talk about packing the matches in! Unfortunately, the Royals have to face off against the top-ranked Courage next. Do you suspect Laura Harvey will try some midweek rotation against the Reign? If so, which fresh faces might we see?
I think we’re likely to see some change from the starting XI against the Dash, but I’m not sure if that’s to help keep legs fresh or because that side struggled. Since Gunny Jonsdottir subbed on and scored the goal, she might get the nod to start against the Reign. Weber struggled as well, and Harvey may give minutes to rookie Michelle Maemone, who is an outside back, and not a winger like Weber.
If Harvey had to pick one game to win and one game to lose between the Reign and NCC, she’d have to pick beating the Reign. That fight for the final playoff spot is a competition between the Reign and the Royals, and URFC have no chance of catching the Courage. The biggest hurdle is to get past the Reign with something, even a point to stay ahead, then deal with North Carolina.
3) Which Reign player do you fear going up against the most on Wednesday?
Bethany Balcer leads the Reign in both goals and assists and she’s an exciting and dangerous young player. After her goal against the Spirit, she has to be feeling confident. The prospect of a fully healthy Megan Rapinoe will give any team some worry. Since she went the full second half against Washington and looked good, it seems likely she may start on Wednesday. Hopefully Sauerbrunn knows her well enough to shut her down, but that relationship could work against Utah as well.
Bonus question: Like us, you are dealing with your head coach being named on the shortlist for the USWNT head coaching gig. How are you handling those rumors?
I would be very happy for Laura if she was given the USWNT job. She’s a fantastic coach and is incredible with her players, who all seem to love playing for her. A big part of the USWNT job is managing personalities, and Harvey is excellent at that. It’s one of those things where I doubt she’ll get the job, so I don’t feel too stressed about it, even if the federation wants a female coach, which would put her in front of the rest. I could see URFC owner Dell Loy Hansen giving assistant coach Scott Parkinson the job, and he’s a very good coach in his own right. The team also has Amy LePeilbet as an assistant and she coached the Reserves team this summer, so there are internal options if Harvey goes.
You can read our answers to RSL Soapbox’s three questions at their site.