NWSL Snap: Utah ends 10-match winless run in 'Expansion Derby'

88 days of hurt ended for first-time head coach Amy Rodriguez, as the Royals took care of their expansion rivals Bay FC.

NWSL Snap: Utah ends 10-match winless run in 'Expansion Derby'
Kate Del Fava (left) reels away from her teammates after scoring the winning goal in the 89th minute | Courtesy of Utah Royals

Note: Welcome to 'NWSL Snap' – A weekly Monday morning brief whip-around of the weekend's action, talking points & nonsense from the U.S. league. Expect quick updates, curious notes, and some standout statistics. It is included in the FREE Squad Depth subscription.

NWSL Matchday 13 Results:

KCC 2-2 Chicago || Louisville 0-2 Gotham
NC Courage 0-0 Orlando || Wash. Spirit 1-1 San Diego
Houston 0-0 ACFC || Seattle 0-0 Portland || Bay 0-1 Utah

Watch NWSL highlights here

Table (via FotMob):

The Snapshot

The 22nd of March feels like a long time ago indeed. It may only be 88 days but it feels like a lifetime. I ache to think back that far and settle on all the moments in between.

Many rotations of the Earth have come and gone and the Utah Royals still couldn't find a win in the National Women's Soccer League. Until now.

On Sunday night, day 87 of the Royals' 10-match winless run (1D-9L), Amy Rodriguez's side finally snapped the skid with a 'smash-and-grab' 1-0 win on the road in San Jose to fellow 2024 expansion club, and "rivals", Bay FC. Relief and joy.

Although the scorelines had improved (1-0 defeats for the Royals in the three matches leading up to the Bay game) the underlying numbers and balance of play were consistently significantly lopsided against Utah over the past month.

Defender Kate Del Fava – arguably the Royals' best all-around player during their season of struggle – got the game's only goal in the win from a set piece. Her second of the season was a leaping nod onto an enticing free-kick delivery by rookie Ally Sentnor, who has been directly involved in five of Utah's seven goals scored.

As crucial and definitive as Del Fava's 89th-minute header was, the defender had a last-ditch sliding tackle in the box on substitute Deyna Castellanos, which also had a case for being the moment of the match. The acrobatic move saw the defender swivel underneath the opponent from the side and whisk the ball away dramatically.

With the Bay midfielder tumbling in the aftermath, the follow-through of the challenge was checked by VAR but was deemed to be clean by the officials. Del Fava went a perfect 5/5 on defensive duels in Sunday's match.

"I saw her [Castellanos] take her touch, then I saw the opening to slide in there and get the ball," Del Fava reflected on her defensive highlight post-match. "I think just tried to make sure I got all the ball and was able to tackle the ball away from her and yeah."

"I kind of was caught in between stepping and dropping. And so that opened up a little bit of space for Castellanos to get in behind. And I just knew that I had better get back and make up for it."

It wasn't objectively pretty but it didn't have to be. An agonizing winless run is over. Utah rode out a nervous first half, where Racheal Kundananji missed an open goal, and goalkeeper Mandy Haught was drawn into a couple of fine saves, in order to pick their moment.

In the second half, Bay's dominance wilted and the Royals made the most of set pieces to steal the first-ever away win under head coach Rodriguez.

The table doesn't lie. But football karma comes and goes. In my opinion, performance levels and results even themselves out. As somewhat cruel as it is for the Californians, another time will come. Utah were simply due.

If we can see more of this version of the Royals, one brimming with steel, directness, and aggression, then NWSL's rock-bottom club might well be able to rise. For now, nothing will taste sweeter to the coach, players, than putting that unwanted streak being put to bed.

Random stat to know: 9% bore draws

A whopping 9% of 2024 NWSL matches are ending 0-0, after a total of 8 from the opening 88 matches finished that way. That's only a slight increase from last season when 8% of matches (11 total) ended scoreless.

11 0-0s in a single season (for both 2023 and 2021) remains an NWSL record. Of course, expansion means there are more matches this season so that total number is likely to increase.

The league's record high for 0-0 % is 2021, where 9.2% of games ended that way. That season also boasts the lowest goals-per-game average (2.32) of any NWSL year. 2024 is currently at a fairly normal rate of 2.75 per match.

With three out of this weekend's matches ending 0-0, and three others having two or fewer goals, it was a particularly odd slate of low-scoring games. Only Friday's jaunty 2-2 back-and-forth between KC Current and Chicago Red Stars managed to get the goal flowing.

So, what happened to all the goals this weekend? Perhaps, as we reach midseason, we're starting to see fatigue set in. Coaching staffs around the league also have a lot more video and analysis to work off too. Defending might not be dead after all.

Quote of the week:

"I think it's a good example of why we need continued investment in the league, so we can look forward to things like goal-line technology to have better decisions on those instances."
-- Jasmyne Spencer

Stuff got very wonky in the dying moments of the Houston vs. Angel City match. A reminder that 8:37pm CT kick-offs in Texas will get highly 'After Dark', not sure if we need more of those.

The Dash's Jane Campbell was called into making several acrobatic saves and then a corner kick spawned a goal-mouth scramble in the 104th minute that eventually saw the ball seemingly creep over the goal-line as the goalkeeper attempted to block. It was messy.

Before we go any further, it's imperative to note that Angel City forward Messiah Bright did handle the ball before the strike that appeared to cross the line. The referee did get word from the VAR official through his earpiece about the incident but decided not to go to the monitor. He stuck with the call of disallowing the last-minute goal.

All this is to say, Jasmyne Spencer is correct in that NWSL does need to investment in goal-line technology. It's been available for a decade or more. It provides a much quicker and more accurate instant judgment, than camera-operated VAR, on whether the ball has crossed the line. A no-brainer. Do it tomorrow.

However, the existence of goal-line technology would not have clinched Angel City a much-needed three points on Saturday night. Better finishing (from an xG of 3.64, 14 shots, and five on target) along with Claire Emslie not seeing her second half penalty kick routinely saved by Campbell would've achieved that.

The game was there for the taking for Los Angeles, but Campbell stood in their way. The shot-stopper is a menace for teams envisioning a win over Houston. Another quite remarkable season for the USA's third choice goalkeeper.

Jane Campbell | Courtesy of the Houston Dash

NWSL Feels XI – Matchday 13

Sort of like a team of the week – mostly gut feels, and who brought the vibes.

One more thing

At 2:oo a.m. CT (9:00 a.m. in France) the OL Groupe (finally!) announced the sale of the Seattle Reign to investment group Carlyle, with Seattle Sounders FC operating as a managing partner. Adrian Hanauer, from that MLS club, will serve on the NWSL board of governors.

Everything you need to know about the deal can be found on the website Sounder At Heart, where journalist Susie Rantz has got you covered.