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Utah Royals FC with measured confidence as ‘business end’ of the season approaches

Utah Royals FC forward Mallory Weber (20) outruns North Carolina Courage midfielder Meredith Speck (25) to maintain possession of the ball during the second half of a National Women’s Soccer League match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, July 27,
Utah Royals FC forward Mallory Weber (20) outruns North Carolina Courage midfielder Meredith Speck (25) to maintain possession of the ball during the second half of a National Women’s Soccer League match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, July 27,
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SANDY — Even after Utah Royals FC beat the then-National Women’s Soccer League-best Portland Thorns FC 1-0 last Friday to continue a strong recent stretch, head coach Laura Harvey essentially sidestepped a question about the team’s confidence, while captain Becky Sauerbrunn said the group has a “fair amount” of it.

Much of the reasoning behind the measured responses had to do with the fact that, with just five games to go in the regular season, every contest is crucial for a team holding on to the fourth and final NWSL playoff spot by a single point.

“I think we know that this league is just insanely talented and so every single night is a battle, but I think it’s a confidence and it’s a momentum that we’re growing from,” Sauerbrunn said. “I think it’s a good run of form right now, so hopefully we can carry that on.”

Calling this the “business end” of the season, Harvey acknowledged her team’s confidence level dropped a bit after an Aug. 21 draw against the Washington Spirit, which snapped a three-game win streak (the team didn’t play again after that until the Portland game).

Besides that, she recognizes how tough the road is the rest of the way. Two of URFC’s remaining five games are against teams ahead of it in the table (league-leading North Carolina Courage on Sept. 21 and the third-place Chicago Red Stars on the 28th), and one is against Washington-based Reign FC, the team just a point behind URFC in the table, on the 18th.

“I think we can kick on again from here,” Harvey said after the Portland win. “We’ve got a huge four-game stretch now leading to the end of September where every game is as important as the next.”

The other two contests will both be against the same squad, the Houston Dash, which is seventh in the nine-team NWSL. The first will be Friday in Houston, and the second will be the regular-season finale at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 12.

The Dash have only won six of their 19 games on the season, although one of those victories came in their lone meeting against URFC so far in 2019, clear back on May 11. Houston went on a seven-game winless streak after that but has since gone a more respectable 3-4-0, although it has lost two straight contests.