1) With a defensive anchor like Becky Sauerbrunn out on NT duty, how do you feel the Royals back line will manage with a front 3 of Sam Kerr, Yuki Nagasato, and Sam Johnson?
Sauerbrunn will be the hardest player to replace now that she’s out with the national team. Utah Royals will still have Rachel Corsie (center back) and Katie Bowen (right back) before they head off with their national teams. Becca Moros is likely still injured. She stepped into O’Hara’s position for much of last season. The backline, where URFC have found so much success, is going to be thin for this game and until post-World Cup.
Much of the defensive battle will take place in the midfield. Desiree “the destroyer” Scott has been a highly effective defensive midfield. Between her and Gunny Jonsdottir, who plays in a more box-to-box role, they will hope to shield the backline from Chicago’s impressive attack.
2) With an offensive presence like Christen Press out on for NT as well, who do you see being the Royals main offensive threat this match?
The partnership between Amy Rodriguez and Katie Stangel was an effective one last season. Stangel, despite being surrounded by players like Press and A-Rod, won the golden boot for the team. She’s great at holdup play, and when her and Amy gel, they’re a dangerous partnership. We’re likely to see either LaBonta or Tymrak join in the attack if Laura Harvey elects to stay with a front three.
Another goal scoring threat will be Vero Boquete. The former Spanish captain was the big offseason signing for the Royals. She’s played in the league previously with Thorns in 2014 and even the Red Stars back in 2010. She’s a very technical player, but hasn’t quite figured out her role on the team. She plays as a number 10 and has shown moments of promise, but hasn’t quite gelled yet. Given some more time and familiarity between her and the team, she’s likely to be one of the most important players on the squad.
3) What’s the mentality going up against a team like the Red Stars after getting two wins against Washington and Orlando, who have been bottom half teams in some form over the last few seasons?
The mentality on the team is a desire for more. Laura Harvey said that the team would not have won those two games this time last season. But they also want more from games like that. 1-0 wins in both games is a good start, but those are teams that the Royals should get more than one goal against.
They’ve yet to play down a goal. In both games they scored within the first 20 minutes and kept the clean sheet. It will be a good test if they go down a goal to see if they’re able to battle back. Scoring loads of goals has never been Utah’s forte, but with Press coming in last season and Vero this year, it’s certainly an ambition they have.
They’re off to a good start, but they need to continue to improve if they want to make the playoffs and be a real contender in the league.
Bonus Question: Do you see former Red Star Sam Johnson having an impact this match?
Sam Johnson will start this game. She featured in six games for the Royals last season and always looked solid. I expect that she will start every game from Friday until both Sauerbrunn and Corsie return from the World Cup. There’s a lot resting on her shoulders during that time and she’s a player who is capable of holding up.