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In the thick of the playoff race, Utah Royals FC readies for tough final stretch

Utah Royals FC celebrates after forward Christen Press (23) scores the first goal of the game during the first half of a National Women’s Soccer League match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, July 27, 2019.
Utah Royals FC celebrates after forward Christen Press (23) scores a goal during a National Women’s Soccer League match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, July 27, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SANDY — It’s crunch time for Utah Royals FC.

Yes, still 25 percent of the 24-game regular season remains, but in the wonky world of National Women’s Soccer League scheduling, four of URFC’s remaining six games will be played between now and Sept. 21 (the second-to-last game will be on Sept. 28 before a big break, and the finale will be on Oct. 12).

As it clings to the fourth and final NWSL playoff spot, URFC is in an interesting place as it readies for the next two weeks. The club played incredibly well in August and is riding a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) after a dismal six-game stretch in which it picked up no wins (0-4-2). That said, it hasn’t played since Aug. 21 and faces a tough set of opponents over the next four contests.

First up is the NWSL-best Portland Thorns FC Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, followed by a matchup against former Alta High School star Kealia Ohai and the seventh-place Houston Dash on the road on Sept. 13. Then URFC will play Washington-based Reign FC, which is just a point behind it in the table, on the road on Sept. 18. Just three days later, URFC will play the defending champion North Carolina Courage (currently second in the table) at home.

This stretch comes at a time when the table is still packed. A win Friday over PTFC would vault URFC all the way up into a tie for second in the table entering Saturday’s league action, and a draw would put it in a tie for third with the Chicago Red Stars. Just three points separate URFC from the sixth-place Washington Spirit.

URFC finished just two points outside the playoffs in its inaugural season in 2018.

Like URFC, Portland enters Friday on a roll, having won its last three games, and it has a five-point cushion on the second-place Courage. URFC and Portland have played to two draws so far this season. The first was a 0-0 decision in Portland during the World Cup when both sides were without a ton of star talent, and the second was a wild 2-2 finish on July 19 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

First kick Friday is set for 7:30 p.m. MT.