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Royals earn first 2024 victory with gritty 2-1 performance over North Carolina Courage

Utah Royals defeated North Carolina Courage 2-1, and it took a huge defensive effort to get there.

Royals earn first 2024 victory with gritty 2-1 performance over North Carolina Courage
Lucas Muller | Wasatch Soccer Sentinel

The long wait is over. For the first time since July 4, 2020, Utah Royals FC walked out winners in Sandy, Utah. Of course, that was a victory in the NWSL Challenge Cup. To find the last league victory with fans in seats, one must look back to October 12, 2019.

It would likely have been less painful had that winless gap included played league matches instead of being symbolic of a long, dark night from 2021 to 2023, in which the club was packed up by the league.

Now, a victory. Not a certain victory, nor an easy one. This one was a victory defined by grit and a dogged desire — getting there required a missed penalty, a saved penalty, and two incredible goals.

Kate Del Fava opened the scoring with a powerfully redirected header from a corner kick, sending the ball into the side netting at the far post. Her effort handed Utah Royals a 1-0 lead, calming nerves after the side lost 0-2 in a nervy home opener.

North Carolina’s Ashley Sanchez put her side level on terms, looping a shot over Royals goalkeeper Mandy Haught from roughly the penalty spot.

Ally Sentnor put the Royals back in the lead, scoring her first professional goal. The top draft pick picked out the top right corner of the net from the edge of the box, leaving Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy grasping.

The first-half lead was dimmed an injury to Royals right back Imani Dorsey, who went down with a non-contact injury. It appeared to be a bad one, with early reports indicating a ruptured achilles.

The 54th minute saw some controversy after a Utah goal was called back, with Agnes Nyberg obstructing Murphy in goal on a corner kick.

The excitement didn’t end there: The 58th minute had Royals rightly whistled for a penalty after Agnes Nyberg took down Denise O’Suillvan, but the ensuing penalty was taken low and on to the far post, which rebounded the ball back into play. During the scramble to regain possession after the miss, Royals’ Addisyn Merrick was judged to have illegally took down Courage striker Sanchez in the box, prompting another penalty.

While the first seemed fair, the second was more questionable. The second penalty kick was taken by Alia Berkely, but it was low and central, and Haught took control of the shot sublimely to keep Utah up 2-1.

The sequence underscored the unlikely performance from Utah, who often looked second-best in and out of possession. That trend continued until the final whistle, with the Royals desperate to hold on to the three points. With a series of towering headers, last-gasp clearances, and time-wasting yellow cards, they held on, notching their first victory of 2024.

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