Utah Royals FC are in desperate need of a win as they host Sky Blue FC at 10:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday night. Royals FC were once in prime position to make the playoffs in their second year of existence, but they have since gone six games without a win and now sit at seventh place on the National Women's Soccer League table. Sky Blue FC has spent the whole season mired at the bottom of the table, but they have played much tougher since former head coach Denise Reddy left the team.
Utah and New Jersey have already played twice this season with both teams registering a win at home. In the first meeting between the two teams, Utah got a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Amy Rodriguez early in the match. Utah was right at the top of the league after that win, but they haven't won a game since. A month after the first meeting, Sky Blue FC got a 92nd minute goal from Jen Hoy to stun the Royals. Both games have been evenly matched, and this midweek game projects to be a good one.
Utah has nearly played themselves out of the playoffs
The last six matches have been a disaster for Utah. Early in the year, Utah won four of their first five games by playing perfect defense and scoring one goal per game. It was obvious that scoring just one goal each match wouldn't be enough to consistently win, but as long as the defense was holding almost every team scoreless they would be fine. Over the last six matches, regardless of lineup, the offense has remained mediocre while the defense has regressed. That led to a six-game slide for Utah.
The Royals offense has been struggling all season. The lone Utah superstar, forward Christen Press, has been a spark when she hasn't been playing for the United States women's national team, but her performance hasn't improved the play of her teammates. Rodriguez has scored five goals this season, matching her production from 2018, but she often struggles to get integrated into the game. Midfielder Vero Boquete was supposed to add some flair to the midfield, but she is another player who is personally strong but doesn't necessarily fit into the team. Head coach Laura Harvey has tried to mix players into the lineup, but there are too many similar players on the roster to really change anything.
The recent defensive performance has been an even bigger problem for the Royals. Back when the defense was getting clean sheets every game it was fine if the offense struggled. The strange part about the defensive regression is that the team is playing worse with better players on the field. USWNT players Kelley O'Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn were both part of the team when they let the North Carolina Courage overcome a one-goal deficit to beat URFC a few weeks back. The players who are underperforming are too high-profile to bench, so they will need to quickly find their form to save this sinking team.
Sky Blue FC is improving
Last season, Sky Blue FC became the first team in NWSL history to win just one game all season. They were not expected to improve significantly in 2019, but ever since they fired Reddy as their coach, the team has gotten better. Immediately after the firing, they got two wins thanks to the heroics of Hoy. They have given up no more than one goal per game since Reddy's departure, and now they have a chance to play the struggling Utah Royals on the road.
Sky Blue's defense has been very impressive lately. A big part of that Renaissance has been the return of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. Over the last two years, Sheridan has grown into one of the best shot-stopping goalkeepers in the league. The addition of defenders Estelle Johnson and Gina Lewandowski has completely changed the centerback play of the team in a positive way. Last weekend, the team even made the bold move of putting forward Imani Dorsey as a wingback. She played admirably, but there is a lot of room for growth in her defensive game if she is going to remain at the back.
Offensively, Sky Blue FC is still in bad shape. They've scored the fewest goals in the league so far this season. The team's leading goalscorer, Raquel Rodriguez, is away with Costa Rica playing in a tournament right now, but the team should have USWNT striker Carli Lloyd back to replace her. Lloyd has scored two goals in her limited time with the team, and she will combine with Dorsey as the main offensive drivers of the team until Rodriguez returns. Even scoring one goal against Utah might be enough to earn three points, and this should be an evenly matched contest.
How to watch
The game will kick off at 10:00 p.m. ET at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Viewers in the United States can watch on Yahoo! Sports on their computer, smart TV, or phone/tablet. International viewers can watch on NWSLsoccer.com.