Shorthanded Utah Royals off to undefeated start

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SANDY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – After missing the playoffs by just two points last year, the Utah Royals have come out on fire this season.

They have won their first three games and are the only team in the National Women’s Soccer League that is unbeaten and untied at 3-0-0.

“It actually was the longest off-season ever,” said Royals midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta. “Everybody was doing so much to put in so much, all the work, and it showed. To come out and get those first three wins at the beginning of the season was huge.”

“It’s massive,” said midfielder Katie Bowan. “Last year, we didn’t have the start that we wanted. We had too many draws, which got to be pretty frustrating. If one of those draws would have been a win, we would have made it. So coming into this season, we really wanted to hit the ground running.”

“The best thing about it is we don’t think we’ve performed brilliantly,” said head coach Laura Harvey. “So it just gives us something to keep working on.”

All three wins have come by the same 1-0 score, so for goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and the defense to not allow a single goal this season is quite an accomplishment.

“That is probably the biggest thing we take pride in because it shows everyone is working behind the ball as well,” said LaBonta, who scored one of Utah’s three goals this season. “It’s not just out there scoring goals. We need to stop goals because defense wins championships.” 

“It is an achievement for us as defenders, but it takes all eleven to get that clean sheet, not just the back four and the goalkeeper,” Bowan said. “Barney has been absolutely amazing in goal. So yes, we’re super stoked and we hope to continue that.”

But with the Women’s World Cup set to start next month, the Royals best players are leaving. Kelly O’Hara, Christen Press and Becky Sauerbrunn have already left to train with the U.S. National team. Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott are off with the Canadian team, while Katie Bowan has been named to the New Zealand national team, and Rachel Corsie will play for Scotland.

So Laura Harvey could be down as many as seven players for a couple of months. 

“I openly admit that I don’t like us playing in [the World Cup],” Harvey said. “I think it’s crazy that we don’t play with our best players. But I think the big thing is preparation. Honestly, we prepare for it the best as we could. Everyday we try and prepare everyone like they’re starting.”

“It’s tough, but we have great players coming in, and she’s obviously a great coach,” said Bowan, who will play in three more games for the Royals before leaving for New Zealand. “So, we’re more than capable of continuing on. I’ll be watching and cheering them on. And there will be a price to pay if they don’t. No, I’m kidding.”

“I’m completely jealous that they get to go do this,” said LaBonta. “But I’m like, you guys, we’ll hold down the fort, just bring back the trophy and we’ll be fine. We’ll all celebrate together.”

The Royals will try to win their fourth straight match to begin the season Saturday against Houston at Rio Tinto Stadium at 1:30 p.m.

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