HERRIMAN — Who knows what the world will look like next spring when Utah Royals FC would normally be gearing up for the 2021 season, but after the team was eliminated Friday night from the NWSL Challenge Cup by the Houston Dash at Zions Bank Stadium in heartbreaking fashion, head coach Craig Harrington gave an early glimpse into what he wants the team to look like next year.
Yes, the 2020 campaign is already almost surely over after just five games for URFC, as the National Women’s Soccer League is not expected to play this year beyond the Challenge Cup’s July 26 final at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, and certainly it has been a difficult past few months for Harrington after he took the top job in February.
Beside dealing with all of the obstacles he faced related to the coronavirus pandemic, Harrington inherited a roster that was more defensive oriented, while he is bound and determined to be very attack oriented. That latter point was clear in his introductory press conference, and he put his money where his mouth was during the Cup despite not having United States Women’s National Team star Christen Press, as he employed a 3-5-2 formation.
““Ultimately as we evolve as a team and as a club, we will definitely become a bit more possession-based and hopefully create more goal-scoring opportunities.” — URFC coach Craig Harrington
The relatively unique formation helped jumpstart URFC’s attack, although the team just didn’t have the firepower up front to put the ball in the back of the net enough, scoring just one goal in its final four games. One positive takeaway is that despite having one less defender on the back line than is more traditional, URFC surrendered just two goals in its last four games, and both were thanks to great plays from the opposition rather than defensive breakdowns.
As such, Harrington is looking forward to the chance over the coming months to improve his team’s attacking quality.
“Ultimately as we evolve as a team and as a club, we will definitely become a bit more possession-based and hopefully create more goal-scoring opportunities,” he said.
While the 3-5-2 formation is unique enough, Harrington mentioned during the tournament that eventually he’d like to play a 3-2-5, which certainly would put an emphasis on the attack. On Friday, he said that whatever the formation, the objective moving forward will be finding ways to get more numbers higher up the field to “cause more questions of the opposition for a lot longer.
“To do that, we have to establish possession and have a rhythm in the attacking half of the pitch,” he said.
With the primary goal for the offseason clear, Harrington and a couple of his players did take time Friday to reflect on what the past few months — and particularly their three weeks in the Challenge Cup — were like.
“We should be proud of all of this,” Harrington said. “This has been a very, very difficult process. It’s exciting to be here and the league’s done an amazing job...but it’s been taxing mentally and physically for every single one of us.”
Added team captain Amy Rodriguez: “I saw a lot of team growth and you could see it. We used a lot of players and we have a lot of talent on this team and in such a short span of time to try and get everything to click together I thought we did what we could. There is always room for improvement.
Personally there is room for improvement and I’ll take this loss and remember it and have it in the back of my mind while I’m training and doing those double days in the offseason and we’ll come back at it again.”
Rookie Kate Del Fava, who was a pleasant surprise for URFC alongside fellow new defender Elizabeth Ball, said, “We have a great team, and I’ve just been blessed to be a part of it. The low is obviously not coming away with the win tonight, but I think there’s a lot to be proud of...we’ll be back next year ready and better than ever.”