Team chemistry has been a topic for a Utah Royals team seven matches into its season, but adding Katrina Gorry to the midfield set off none of the usual growing pains.
“Mini’s a player, man,” winger Kelley O’Hara said after Gorry’s first Royals start on May 5. “She’s so fun to play with. … The first practice she came in, I was like, ‘Dang, I’m stoked she’s here.’ I think it’s easy when you’re a good player you can fit into systems well.”
The Royals are unbeaten since putting Gorry in an attacking role and moving Gunnhildur Jonsdottir deeping into midfield, which was the plan for when Gorry joined the team in late April. With Desiree Scott rounding out the midfield, Royals coach Laura Harvey likes what she’s seen.
“We did really well in the second half from a midfield perspective,” Harvey said after a scoreless tie with Orlando last Wednesday. “When we pressed, we forced them to go longer into the midfield area. And then we competed for the first ball, and did really well with the second ball, and that’s part of our game. You know, partnerships are being developed at the minute, and I felt that was another positive in the second half was our midfield dominated there, no question.”
Wednesday’s tie against Orlando was the first time all season Harvey kept the same starting lineup as the previous game, a 2-0 win over the Washington Spirit.
Gorry had a season of NWSL experience under her belt to ease her transition back to the league three years later, but this is Jonsdottir’s first year in the NWSL. Beginning the season with Jonsdottir as an attacking midfielder had more advantages than filling Gorry’s spot.
“When you come to this league from Europe especially, it’s so transitional here that you need to get your head around it,” Harvey said. “And I thought that Gunny playing higher, she’d get to see that it can be really transitional, but once she got used to the pace of the game, once she got used to how quickly she has to get back and defend, she athletically can do it.”
Jonsdottir joked that she had changed roles because she wanted to be closer to Scott. The two requested to do an interview together on Tuesday, and the two have their interview chemistry down too.
“Desi and Gunny have made it pretty easy to adapt to [a new playing style],” Gorry said, “and just learn how they play and play off them. Obviously they make it pretty easy just holding the line a little bit and letting me have a bit of a free run.”
O’Hara remained out of practice Tuesday after leaving last Wednesday’s match with another flare-up of a nagging hamstring injury. Harvey said O’Hara was undergoing a thorough evaluation in case the injury was more than a tweak. Her timeline to return depends on the results of that evaluation.
“This may have been the little nick that we all needed to say, ‘Let’s delve deeper into what’s going on so that we can make sure that she’s fine,’” Harvey said.