Preview: Spirit looks to earn consecutive victories in battle with Utah Royals FC

Washington Spirit  |   March 29, 2024
Preview: Spirit looks to earn consecutive victories in battle with Utah Royals FC Featured Image

Washington, D.C. (03/29/2024) – The Washington Spirit will face Utah Royals FC in both sides’ third match of the 2024 NWSL regular season. The match kicks off at 1 p.m. EDT at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. and will broadcast locally on Monumental Sports Network as well as nationally and internationally on NWSL+.


The Spirit

Entering the match in solid form, the Washington Spirit most recently defeated NWSL expansion side Bay FC, 2-1, in the Spirit’s 2024 home opener at Audi Field. The come-from-behind win came in front of 11,734 fans – a home opener record crowd for Washington. Since the beginning of 2023, the Spirit has won five games (all competitions) in which it conceded the first goal, the most such wins of any NWSL team in that time.


The Spirit’s two goals came from rookies Hal Hershfelt and Croix Bethune, who became the fifth and sixth Spirit players, respectively, to score a goal in their home debut. The duo of 2024 first round draft selections joined Ashley Hatch, Diana Matheson, Ashley Sanchez and Sam Staab as the only players to score in their Spirit home debut.


Bethune’s 95th-minute winner was the Spirit’s fourth game-winner in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time across all competitions (one each in 2021, 2022 and 2023). No other NWSL team has done so more than once. The goal was also the second-latest game-winner in club history behind Hatch’s (99:04) converted penalty kick on September 10, 2022 against San Diego.


Hershfelt’s banger was assisted by Trinity Rodman who, in her 75th appearance (all competitions), tied the club assists record, joining Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson, with 11.


Sunday’s meeting with Utah Royals FC is the seventh all-time meeting between the two sides. Established in 2017 as an expansion side, Utah competed in the 2018 and 2019 NWSL regular seasons and the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup and Fall Series before transferring operations to Kansas City (now the Kansas City Current). In 2023, Utah was granted expansion once more and recaptured the Royals’ team history.


Washington suffered shutout losses in each of its first four meetings with the first incarnation of the Royals before a 2-0 win and scoreless draw (both at home) in the final two meetings between the teams. The four shutouts by Utah against the Spirit are its most against any opponent.


The Spirit plays again on Friday, April 12 against the Houston Dash. The road match will air on Prime at 8:00pm EDT.


The Opposition

In its inaugural match, the Royals fell, 0-2, in a shutout to Chicago. Despite peppering the Red Stars defense with 20 shots and more than doubling the Red Stars’ 235 passes, the Royals could not take advantage of its chances, while surrendering two crucial chances for Chicago.


The Royals’ poor performance didn’t last long, though. Utah scored its first victory of the season with a 2-1 home win over the Courage in its second match of the year last weekend. The Royals needed just two shots for the win, becoming the first NWSL team to ever finish a game with two goals and two or fewer shots. In that match, the Royals gave up 17 shots and were outpossessed 32.6% to 67.4%.


Utah rookie Ally Sentnor scored her first NWSL goal with a game-winner from outside the box for the Royals. She’s the third No. 1 overall pick to score their debut NWSL goal from outside the box, joining Alyssa Thompson and Tierna Davidson.


The one-goal victory last week for Utah marked the first victory over North Carolina since 2018. The previous iteration of the club went 4 games without a win.


Fans should look for a tightly-contested matchup between the two sides this Sunday. Both teams have 2.3 expected goals and two actual goals scored this season – both coming in each team’s second match.


Utah Royals FC returns home following the Spirit match to play the Orlando Pride at America First Field on Friday, April 12 at 9:30 p.m. EDT.



• The Spirit is 1-4-1 against the Utah Royals FC. The sole Spirit victory in the all-time series between the two clubs came at home. However, the Spirit has had trouble finding the back of the net – scoring two goals in the team’s one victory against Utah and being shut out in every other matchup.

· Current Spirit goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart was the former Utah keeper that earned four clean sheets against the Spirit.

• In the Spirit’s previous match, the team held opponent Bay FC without a shot for nearly 40 minutes in the second half.

•  Defender Anna Heilferty appeared in the Spirit’s most recent game. This was her first appearance since October 1, 2022 following an ACL injury during the 2023 preseason.

• Ashley Hatch…

· Surpassed 9,000 career regular season minutes for the Spirit, joining Tori Huster and Aubrey Kingsbury as the only other Spirit players to surpass this milestone.

· Tallied her eighth career Spirit assist in all competitions, tying her with Ashley Sanchez and Christine Nairn for fourth in club history. It was her sixth regular season assist for the Spirit, tying her for sixth in club history.

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