HERRIMAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Craig Harrington is in the win column for the first time as head coach of the Utah Royals.
Team captain Amy Rodriguez scored the only goal of the game in the 41st minute, as the Royals shut down Sky Blue FC in the NWSL Challenge Cup, 1-0.
The victory is Harrington’s first with the Royals, after the team played to a 3-3 draw in the Challenge Cup opener against Houston.
“I’m delighted for the group,” Harrington said. “I think they earned it and I think the best team won today. From the last game I think we improved and that’s all that we’re asking for from this group. Second, I think there were several outstanding individual performances, but the hot take is right now that we won the game and we kept a clean sheet. Now people are talking about playing three at the back.”
The Royals started the match strong, taking command on offense, pestering Sky Blue FC’s defense. But it wasn’t until the 41st minute that the team was able to break through with a goal.
Sky Blue FC had possession of the ball, attempting to send a strong pass upfield, but it was forward Brittany Ratcliffe who was able to block the ball with her back, initiating a give and go with Rodriguez before handing off the ball to Veronica Boquete. After getting the ball in the open field, Boquete slotted the ball through two defenders directly to the feet of Rodriguez who easily tapped the ball into the back of the net for the go-ahead goal.
Rodriguez gave all the credit to Boquette for the goal.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of Vero,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve enjoyed playing with her for the past few seasons and I always joke that she makes my job look easy, because she sets me up so wonderfully. She’s one of the best midfielders in the world and I’m so glad she’s on our team.”
After giving up three goals in the tournament opener, goalkeeper Abby Smith notched the shutout. Sky Blue FC managed just three shots, none on frame.
“I was happy with the way we played at the back,” Harrington said about his team’s defensive effort. “I’ve watched a lot of games here and we went against the wind in the first half, so our game plan was pretty spot on with how we were trying to play against it instead of just hanging on and trying to survive the first half. To get the goal I think we absolutely deserved it. Obviously, it would’ve been nice to put the game away with the chances we had. Overall, I’m delighted with the mentality of the group and I think it’s great effort. I’m proud of them and now we’re onto OL Reign.”
The Royals improved to 1-0-1 on the season headed into Wednesday’s game against OL Reign at 10:30 a.m. at Zions Bank Stadium.