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Utah Royals FC eliminated from playoff contention after 2-1 loss to Chicago Red Stars

Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) just misses a shot on goal against the Sky Blue FC in Sandy on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
FILE: Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez (8) just misses a shot on goal against the Sky Blue FC in Sandy on Saturday, June 15, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Royals FC has been eliminated from playoff contention.

Clinging to its postseason life entering Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Red Stars, URFC needed at least a draw to keep their chances alive before Washington-based Reign FC plays Sunday, but URFC fell to the Red Stars 2-1.

A Yuki Nagasato goal in the 85th minute did URFC in. It marked the second game in a row in which URFC gave up a goal in the 85th minute or later to lose by a 2-1 score.

In all, URFC has lost its last four games after vaulting all the way up to a tie for second in the National Women’s Soccer League table on Sept. 6 after it beat then-league-best Portland Thorns FC.

A season that was looking so promising just over three weeks ago now sees URFC guaranteed to finish with fewer points than it did in its inaugural campaign in 2018. The club tallied 35 a year ago but would only reach 34 if it wins its regular-season finale on Oct. 12 at home against the Houston Dash.

After a stretch from Aug. 7-Sept. 6 in which URFC scored nine goals in five matches en route to four wins and one draw, the club has reverted back to what was long its norm, as it has scored just three goals in its last four matches.

On Saturday night, Chicago scored first on a strike from Vanessa DiBernardo in the 40th minute, but URFC fired right back as Christen Press found the net just two minutes later on a pretty header that was set up by a cross into the box from Gunny Jonsdottir.

URFC was then the better team in the second half in terms of creating scoring chances. In the 68th minute, Katie Stengel ended up with the ball in the box after some confusion and appeared to have a great attempt at goal, but United States Women’s National Team stalwart Julie Ertz cleared it with just inches to spare.

Then in the 85th minute, URFC’s fate was essentially sealed as Nagasato rebounded a shot from goal-scoring phenom Sam Kerr that Nicole Barnhart had originally saved and rifled it into an empty net.

The victory was a big one for the Red Stars, as they took control of second place in the NWSL in their last regular season game.

The top two teams get home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

URFC’s season finale at Rio Tinto Stadium is set to begin at 7 p.m. MDT.