Utah Royals roar back, forge a draw with Houston Dash
Utah Royals rookie Tziarra King was ready for her moment.
The No. 8 pick in the 2020 NWSL draft waited for it for years — since her senior year of high school in New Jersey, when her team only won two matches; for four years at NC State, where she finished third in school history in goals, starts and points; and in January, when she became the first Wolfpack player to be selected in the NWSL draft.
So even though it came a few months later than expected, King was ready for her professional debut Tuesday in a 3-3 comeback draw with the Houston Dash.
She didn’t enter the game until the 69th minute with the Royals trailing 3-1. Although the Dash had a strong upper hand on the scoreboard, the game was devolving into a back-and-forth shootout.
In the final 10 minutes, Utah landed back-to-back punches.
Royals attacker Vero Boquete scored off a free kick in the 82nd minute after a yellow card, curling the ball around a wall of players and past the fingertips of keeper Jane Campbell.
Then, with a minute left in regulation, King pounced on a skipping free kick and headed the ball down for the equalizing goal.
“From the warmup, [coach] Craig [Harrington] had told me, ‘You’re going to be that spark off the bench,’ ” King said. “I’m glad I could step up into that role that they wanted me to be.”
Players from both teams drew attention ahead of kickoff during the national anthem.
After Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Short broke down in tears during the national anthem ahead of her team’s match Saturday, the league began to reconsider whether the song should be played at all.
Commissioner Lisa Baird released a statement Monday saying players now had a third option during the anthem — they could stand, kneel or choose to remain in the locker room.
No one from the Houston and Utah squads took the new option. Instead, bench players and staff walked onto the field alongside the starters during the national anthem. Every Utah player and coach kneeled for the anthem, while several Houston players and coaches chose to stand.
Three of the four referees for Tuesday’s game chose to kneel during the anthem as well for the first time in the tournament.
The third match of the Challenge Cup mirrored the tone of previous games — high-scoring, high-octane and highly fun for casual and rabid fans alike.
Despite months of isolation from teammates and athome workouts, players brought a furious intensity to the opening round of the Challenge Cup even when technique or chemistry faltered.
The match between Houston and Utah featured six quality goals and nonstop action for both sides.
The Royals took a lead in the 35th minute when veteran Amy Rodriguez pulled the ball wide and fed it into the box for Canadian Diana Matheson to redirect into the net. But the Dash took over from there, led by English star Rachel Daly.
Both teams brought a new look into the Challenge Cup.
After trading defender
Becky Sauerbrunn, the Royals were also without several notable stars for the tournament, including Americans Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara and Canadian Desiree Scott.
The Dash completed a major overhaul in the offseason that included trading star Kealia Watt. For the first time, Houston entered this season as the only team without a U.S. national allocated player.
Wearing the captain’s armband, Daly stepped up to deliver two goals for the Dash. She leveled the game just before the half, collecting an arcing pass into the box and smashing it past keeper Abby Smith in the first minute of stoppage time.
Daly burst out of halftime with the same energy, heading down a skipping corner kick in the 47th minute to stretch the Dash lead to 2-1.
The striker almost added a third for a hat trick in the 61st minute, blocking a kick by Smith and flying forward to slot at home the ricocheting ball. But the referee waved off the goal, saying Daly encroached on the keeper before the ball was live.
NWSL opener ratings
The NWSL Challenge Cup opener set a viewing record for the league.
The match between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns, which was the team sporting event to be staged during the coronavirus pandemic, drew 572,000 viewers on CBS Saturday. It was the mostwatched NWSL match since the league began play in 2013.