SALT LAKE CITY — Just last week, Utah Royals FC players expressed excitement over being able to play on their home field at Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time in nearly a year as they prepared to face Washington-based OL Reign.
In very 2020-like fashion, though, URFC is now suddenly readying to play its last home contest of the calendar year. On Saturday night, it will face Portland Thorns FC in Sandy before the season finale on the road against the Reign in two weeks.
“Kinda weird,” rookie defender Kate Del Fava sai Friday via Zoom. “This year has been really strange, and so I think with each game, we’re just kind of taking it for what it is and feeling grateful that we have another game coming up.”
That concept of taking it for what it is — with no postseason berth on the line — seems to be a theme, as forward Brittany Ratcliffe independently used essentially the same phrase to describe her thoughts heading into Saturday’s match.
“I think for it being our last home game, I think it’s just good for us to take it for what it is,” she said. “It’s still a game. It’s still important. We still have to go out there and get three points. We still have to execute what we need to do, but it’s sad because we like playing at home.”
Both Del Fava and Ratcliffe expressed excitement over the idea of playing in front of fans, with Ratcliffe adding that even though nothing is at stake, there’s still a pride players take in defending their home field.
“There’s a little bit of extra grit because you want to defend your home,” she said. “I’m sad it’s our last game, but very thankful that we can even play in our stadium in the first place.”
Ratcliffe was clear that no one is really eyeing the finish line just yet, though.
“We have this game and then we still have another game Oct. 17, so our job isn’t over just yet,” she said.
First things first, URFC will be looking to avenge the result the last time it played the Thorns on Sept. 20 in Portland. Just days earlier, head coach Craig Harrington had been placed on leave of absence (he’s still on leave) and assistant coach Amy LePeilbet was named interim head coach.
On a wildly confusing day, URFC lost 3-0.
“The first game wasn’t fun,” Ratcliffe said. “No one likes to lose 3-0, but I think Amy has done a great job at doing what she has with the situation that has been presented to us. I think Amy was not only a great player, but she’s a great coach, and she’s really helped us get through this, along with all the assistant coaches.
“Each and every day, we’re just trying to get better at the things we’re not good at, continue to strengthen the things we are good at,” she continued. “Each day is a new day to get better, so I’m excited for this next game against Portland because I hope it’s different. It’s going to be different, and hopefully we can go out there and get three points.”
URFC responded last week against the Reign with a much better showing in an eventual 2-2 draw.
“I think right now, things are settled. We’re in a rhythm,” LePeilbet said. “We had a good week of training. I think they feel prepared. The good thing is we had to play Portland, so we learned. ... We had the game against the Reign, which we grew just from the Portland game into the Reign, and now we just keep growing and building on the little pieces we’ve been adding, and I think we’ll be even more prepared going into Portland this weekend.”