Utah Royals FC vs Houston Dash preview: A battle for first place in Utah
Utah forward Amy Rodriguez scored her first goal of the season last week in a 1-0 win over Chicago Red Stars. | Photo: @UtahRoyalsFC

On Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET Utah Royals FC will put their three-game winning streak on the line as they host the Houston Dash at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, UT

Both teams are currently dealing with a large number of international absences and injuries, so this game will come down to which team is deeper and is better able to execute consistently. The Royals currently sit at first place in the league while Houston is just two spots lower in third. 

Utah's defense has been unbreakable

Through three games, Royals FC has scored just three goals, but they've been able to win on each occasion because they've allowed zero. Three consecutive clean sheets is a testament to the defensive and goalkeeping efforts by Utah, but the roster is starting to look a bit barren.

On the back line, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O'Hara, and Sydney Miramontez have all been ruled out, and Becca Moros is listed as questionable. Last weekend, head coach Laura Harvey pushed Katie Bowen out onto the flank to give Sam Johnson an easier time getting her feet underneath her at center back. Fortunately for Utah, they should be able to start the same four defenders on Saturday afternoon, but their coverage in the midfield will be a bit weaker. Holding midfielder Desiree Scott is off to camp with the Canadian women's national team, and nobody currently on the roster jumps out as a natural replacement for her. This could lead to greater exposure for the back line. 

Up top, Amy Rodriguez got her first goal of the season last weekend against the Chicago Red Stars. Averaging just one goal per game isn't good enough to win consistently in this league, so her relationship with fellow forward Katie Stengel is of the utmost importance. Houston's defense has been fine but unexceptional this year, so there will certainly be opportunities on attack.

Houston deals with their first absences

The Houston Dash were the only team in the league without a single player called into United States women's national team camp ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. That allowed them to field their full roster and gain a competitive advantage over the Orlando Pride last weekend. They only secured a 1-0 win, but the game was never in question. This week will be a different story.

Four Dash players - defender Lindsay Agnew, defender Allysha Chapman, midfielder Sophie Schmidt, and forward Nichelle Prince - have all been called up for Canada and will not participate in the match. These abrupt defensive changes will cause serious problems for Houston with both of their outside backs away from the team. Head coach James Clarkson will have his work cut out for him, because there are no natural replacements for those players on the squad. The team might be relying on the forwards to get a goal or two early so that they can sit back and bunker.

Dash forward Kealia Ohai scored the game-winning goal against Orlando last weekend.
Dash forward Kealia Ohai scored the game-winning goal against Orlando last weekend.

The offense for Houston has been quite good. English forward Rachel Daly has been on fire creating chances, but her finishing has been lackluster. Kealia Ohai scored her first goal of the season last weekend and looker to be in good form. Sofia Huerta, who might slot into the defensive line this weekend, has the ability to control the flank and create offense from the back. Houston just lost forward Veronica Latsko to an ACL tear, and she projected to be a solid fill-in for Prince as an attacking midfielder. In all, Houston's offense is much stronger than their defense right now. 

How to watch

This game will be broadcast live on Yahoo! Sports for viewers in the United States, and it will be on the nwslsoccer.com website for international fans. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon.