1. Maybe someone should mark Christen Press
For the past two games now, the USWNT reserve forward and Utah Royals FC fan favorite has put away one goal. And each time, not only was it fun to watch, but also the result of poor defense.
Press nutmegged her defender last week before putting the ball in the goal through a space not much wider than the ball itself. And against the Courage, all she needed was a soft touch to her right before she had the space to launch another.
It’s not like Press is new to the NWSL or soccer in general. Everyone knows her resume. One would think that the moment she receives the ball in space, or goes one-on-one, or comes flying down the field looking to make something happen, that defenders would realize that and get up in her grill a bit more.
Or maybe Press is just that good. Regardless, two goals in two games since returning from international duty is what the Royals need from Press. And if opposing teams are going to keep letting her shoot relatively comfortably, she and Utah will welcome it.
2. Royals caught between styles of play
Utah coach Laura Harvey said something interesting postgame. While the Royals created plenty of chances against the Courage — more than in recent weeks — it still wasn’t enough to win because their own mistakes led to North Carolina’s goals.
So the Royals, Harvey said, have to create even more chances. But at the same time, they also have to play better defense. And sometimes, those are two ideas that clash.
“We need to get back to being hard to beat and not giving up goals, but keep creating chances,” Harvey said. “And it’s a tough coin to keep flipping because the more hard to beat you become, often that means you don’t create your chances. But the more expansive we want to be — because we can be and we should be — the more at times you put your defenders under pressure.”
There was a time earlier this season that the Royals put together three consecutive shutouts. They were constantly winning games 1-0. They weren’t creating many chances, but they were winning.
Harvey alluded to a desire to get back to that.
“We can be super dangerous, but you can’t give away two goals every game,” Harvey said. “You can’t do that because this league doesn’t allow you to do that and win games. So we have to sort that side of it out. We have to get back to the clean sheets and being had to beat. And if that means we win 1-nil, we win 1-nil. Because it doesn’t matter if we create all these chances if we don’t win games.”
3. Royals missed Vero Boquete
The above clip illuminates something the Royals haven’t had for over a month. On Press’ goal, Boquete pushed the attack forward and put the ball in a position that allowed Press to do something dangerous with it.
That sequence was a microcosm of Boquete’s value to the Royals. She’s the club’s beat creator and has the ability to dictate the pace of the game when she has the ball.
Without her, the Royals are just not the same team. She’s Utah’s connective tissue. And now that she’s back playing a full 90 minutes, the Royals should get much better much sooner.