The Utah Royals stayed in playoff contention and won the season series with the top-ranked North Carolina Courage, holding off a potent attack in a 0-0 draw Friday night in front of a crowd of 8,529 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Utah backup goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart finished the night with four saves, facing 20 shots on the night as the Royals moved to 3-2-4 at home and 1-0-2 overall against the front-running Courage.
“We are so lucky to have (Barnhart),” Utah head coach Laura Harvey said. “I’ve said it all season that she is a ultra professional. She knows exactly what it takes to play at this level, she is pushing (starting keeper) Abby (Smith) every single day, and you saw tonight, experience takes over with her. She knows when to control the game, when to play quick, when to slow the game down. We feel confident having both of them back there which is a luxury.
“Credit to the players. I thought in the second half they stepped up. The first half wasn’t good enough, I’m not going to sugar coat it, but in the second half we were much better. The players — every single one of them — stepped up and did a lot better in the second half.”
North Carolina had the better of the chances in the first half, outshooting Utah 9-1. However, the only shot on goal came in the sixth minute when Abby Erceg snapped a header off a ball from the left side off the boot of Debinha, forcing Barnhart into a diving save to her right to keep the match scoreless.
The second half was tilted more in Utah’s favor, with the Royals putting the pressure on North Carolina’s defense throughout the half. Still the Courage held an 11-4 shots advantage in the half.
Rachel Corsie came up with the biggest stop of the night in the 88th minute as Lynn Williams got out on the break. With Darian Jenkins charging up the left side, Corsie slid in to block a ball from Williams bound for the far post. That kept the match scoreless as the teams finished with a 0-0 draw.
Utah (5-6-7) currently sixth in the NWSL standings, six points behind the Chicago Red Stars, who are currently in the fourth and final playoff spot.
“We’ll review this game over the next couple of days, then the players get a couple of days to do what they want,” Harvey said. “Just have a breather and refresh. We’ve had a lot of games so just a little bit of a breather then back in Friday in preparation for Houston.
Dillon Serna’s goal at the 88th minute lifted Colorado to a 2-2 tie against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in a match delayed 45 minutes by rain and lightning. The match didn’t get over until 11:10 p.m.
Serna entered the game at the 85th minute and replaced Kortne Ford. Shortly thereafter, Colorado’s Edgar Castillo put together a run on the left side, weaved through Salt Lake defenders and fired a shot saved by Nick Rimando. Serna continued his run and from a difficult angle at left got the rebound past Rimando.
Damir Kreilach scored in the 11th minute for Salt Lake (9-9-3) on a lunging header off a cross from Joao Plata. Six minutes later, Plata made it a 2-0 contest with his shot off a cross from Jefferson Savarino.
Colorado (4-11-5) regrouped and Jack McBean scored on a penalty kick to make it 2-1 in the 33rd.
Hat trick record
Josef Martinez set an MLS record with his sixth career hat trick and Atlanta United rallied to beat D.C. United 3-1 on Saturday.
Martinez has a league-leading 22 goals in 22 appearances this season. With 12 game left, he’s on pace to break the MLS season record of 27 held by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Martinez tied it at 1 for Atlanta (13-4-5) in the 30th minute, beating goalkeeper David Ousted to Hector Villalba’s cross and finishing with a header. Martinez headed home the deflection off Andrew Carleton’s cross in the 54th minute, then rounded Ousted on a breakaway for an open-net finish in the 73rd.