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Utah Royals fall to Houston Dash on penalty kicks; eliminated from NWSL Challenge Cup

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Utah Royals FC midfielder Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir (66) consoles teammate Utah Royals FC defender Rachel Corsie (2) as the Utah Royals fall to the Houston Dash 3-2 on penalty kicks in the Challenge Cup quarterfinals at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman on Friday, July 17, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — A good argument could be made that the Houston Dash deserved a penalty kick in the eighth minute on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium against Utah Royals FC that officials didn’t give to them.

But the Dash got penalty kicks when it mattered most.

With the Challenge Cup moving to the knockout phase Friday, the two teams were knotted up 0-0 after 90 minutes. The NWSL had previously decided that extra time would not be played in the tournament and instead knockout games would go straight to PKs.

URFC’s Amy Rodriguez missed the first try for either side, Houston goalkeeper Jane Campbell made a save on another one from Rachel Corsie and the Dash converted enough to win the shootout 3-2.

Given that the tournament will almost surely be the entirety of the 2020 season, URFC is finished after just five games.

Houston will play in the semifinals next Wednesday morning at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy against the Portland Thorns.

“There’s going to be a winner and a loser, and were the ones that lost it there on penalties,” URFC head coach Craig Harrington summed up.

Harrington said his penalty-kick taking group, which included rookie first-round pick Tziarra King, was decided during the week in anticipation of the possibility it could happen Friday.

“I asked the group if there was anybody that didn’t fancy one, and everyone wanted to take it,” he said. “That’s penalties. That’s life.”

On Friday, the opening half saw the Dash be more dominant, although URFC had a few chances it couldn’t put away. The second half was very much a slog, with neither team getting much of anything going.

It was also marked by physical play, with officials at times struggling to keep control.

“It’s a knockout football game, but yeah, it was definitely physical out there,” Harrington said, adding that he felt Houston’s size was a problem for his squad. “It was just a proper football match out there...it was a bit of a ding-dong, but that’s also part of why we love the game. It can be beautiful in many different ways.”

Added forward and team captain Amy Rodriguez: “It was a hard-fought match. Both sides I would say got a little bit aggressive, but the refs do what they can and our job is to keep playing, and my job as a forward is to score. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that today. The focus really isn’t on the refs. The focus is on ourselves.”

The first game of the quarterfinals on Friday morning already provided the most shocking moment on the field in the tournament, as the top-seeded North Carolina Courage, the heavy favorite to win the whole thing, was knocked out by the Thorns by a 1-0 scoreline.

While seeding would have indicated that David beat Goliath, the Thorns are perennially a top side that underperformed in the preliminary round, even if they’re without the services of United States Women’s National Team star Tobin Heath, who opted out of the tournament.

On Friday, Portland rookie Morgan Weaver found the net in the 68th minute for her first professional goal, and backup goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom was incredible between the posts to preserve the clean sheet against the high-powered Courage.

First kick for the semifinal is set for 10:30 a.m. MT. On Saturday, the Washington Spirit will play Sky Blue FC and OL Reign will face the Chicago Red Stars to decide the other two semifinalists.