SALT LAKE CITY — For the second game in a row, a difference-making goal in the final minutes went against Utah Royals FC on Sunday night in the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman.
After a stoppage time goal from OL Reign last Wednesday, an 85th minute header from the Chicago Red Stars’ Casey Short Sunday was the only score, lifting the Red Stars to the 1-0 victory in both their and URFC’s final contest of the preliminary round of the Cup.
In that 85th minute, Chicago’s Savannah McCaskill got the ball on the right side of the field, about 30 yards from goal. She delivered a ball across the box that seemed to be rather benign, but Short rose above URFC’s Kelley O’Hara — who subbed on in the 71st minute for her first NWSL action in nearly a year — and knocked it toward the net, and URFC goalkeeper Abby Smith couldn’t react to it fast enough.
Although Short’s attempt came from a different angle than the Wednesday goal the Reign’s Bethany Balcer scored, McCaskill’s service was from an eerily similar spot and came in very similar fashion as Balcer’s teammate Yuka Momiki’s did.
This marks the second straight game that URFC went scoreless.
“We are frustrated again, because I think that especially the first half, we were the better team...a late goal, a similar goal, actually, in a cross, we have to check and we have to correct that because obviously it’s hurting us,” URFC midfielder Vero Boquete said.
The win for the Red Stars — their first of the Cup — sets up what will be a wild final day of the preliminary round on Monday, as a whopping five of the eight teams are tied with four points apiece (URFC being one of them).
While Sunday’s game ended in heartbreaking fashion for URFC, the tournament’s host team performed well. Chicago had a three-day rest advantage and was playing virtually its entire top group, while URFC sat a number of its stars and started a bunch of players who hadn’t seen much action in their places.
“It stings. We don’t want to lose. I’m really proud of the performance of the group. I think we probably deserved a little better than that. However, you don’t always get what you deserve in sport. That’s why we love it. That’s the beauty of the game.” — URFC head coach Craig Harrington
“It stings,” URFC head coach Craig Harrington said. “We don’t want to lose. I’m really proud of the performance of the group. I think we probably deserved a little better than that. However, you don’t always get what you deserve in sport. That’s why we love it. That’s the beauty of the game.
“The application of this group of what we wanted them to do today, the game plan on three day’s rest when that team had six days to prepare for us and we played a game in that time, I thought my group was magnificent.”
The contest was a slog most of the way before the Red Stars began to get some momentum halfway through the second stanza. URFC head coach Craig Harrington made a bunch of subs that appeared might be able to get his team’s attack going, but that never really materialized in a dangerous way.
The tournament’s quarterfinal matchups will be determined Monday night and played on Friday and Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium.