After looking to be one of the most consistent teams at the start of the National Women's Soccer League season, we've now seen the best and worst performances from Utah Royals FC in consecutive weeks. The Royals (4W-5D-3L) were soundly beaten in all three phases of the game by the Chicago Red Stars (4W-7D-3L) after Utah shocked the league by going into North Carolina and beating the first-place Courage just seven days earlier. The Red Stars win is all the more surprising after Chicago dumped three players to acquire defender Brooke Elby and a wealth of draft picks for the next three years during the week.
The Red Stars opened the match hot, creating three shots in the first ten minutes but failing to capitalize. After that point, the two teams settled in and the game seemed very equal for the duration of the first half. If anything, Utah would have the better of the first-half chances. Midfielder Katrina Gorry and forward Amy Rodriguez both had solid chances on goal, but Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher saved Gorry's header and Rodriguez put the ball over the bar. Those two Utah players would remain the most dangerous for the duration of the match, with Utah's Diana Matheson providing service into the box.
The second half was more-or-less dominated by Chicago. Defender Casey Short made her first start for the Red Stars after a long injury recovery, but she was replaced by fellow defender Sarah Gordon to start the second half. After earning a free kick about 40 yards from goal, Danielle Colaprico sent a searching ball into the box toward a small cluster of Red Stars players in the 62nd minute. Attacking midfielder Michele Vasconcelos got a head on the ball and it popped over Utah goalkeeper Abby Smith and fell into the back of the net. Smith smacked her head into the goal post as she attempted to make the save and stayed down for a while, but she would continue the match.
The Red Stars kept their collective foot on the gas, and forward Sam Kerr controlled the ball and drove into the Utah penalty box. She dropped the ball back to midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo at the top of the box. DiBernardo took a touch and sent a shot across her body and into the left-hand side of the goal. The 70th-minute goal was her first on the season after she spent the first 12 games out with an injury.
Chicago would follow up that goal with three excellent shot opportunities over the next five minutes, but they were unable to extend the lead, and Utah looked gassed and defeated for the duration of the match.
Utah will host Seattle Reign FC on Wednesday in Sandy, Utah as they try to bounce back and keep pace with the Thorns and Red Stars in the playoff hunt.
Chicago won't play again until Sunday evening when they host the Washington Spirit.