After enjoying two victories at home and riding a two-game shutout streak, Orlando Pride started their four-game away stint with a stop at Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium to play the Dash for the second time in the young season. The team was coming off a less than convincing victory over the Western New York Flash, but the Pride were able to start their road trip off on the right foot with a 1-0 win in Houston.
This win, in front of an announced crowd of 6,293, also marks the Pride's (4-2-0) first road victory, as the club now rises to second place in the NWSL table for the time being, with 12 points through six games.
A new addition to the Pride's lineup this week seemed promising, with Toni Pressley getting the start at center back, but other adjustments arose with a last-minute change of Becky Edwards when Laura Alleway suffered a groin injury in warmups. Alleway's knock pushed Monica from a starting midfield spot back to center back next to Pressley, while Edwards played midfield.
Lianne Sanderson also got the nod in midfield with Sarah Hagen out with an ankle sprain she suffered during training earlier in the week. Houston Dash star midfielder Carli Lloyd was also still out with an injury she suffered after going down in the fourth minute in Orlando at the start of the season.
The match started with strong, early possession coming from Houston. The Dash threatened with a free kick at 30 seconds, which was easily saved by goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Houston's first real chance came 13 minutes in, from a well-placed ball by Morgan Brian, which was cleared near goal by Josée Bélanger.
On the other end of the pitch, Orlando's first chance came through Edwards' attempt for her first goal of the season, off a laser-precise pass by Alex Morgan, that was pushed off by Andressa. A minute later, Belanger drew a foul off Houston that resulted in a free kick that went nowhere.
Houston's next best chance of the half came 20 minutes in, when Kealia Ohai got a chance off some poor defending and an easy dummy around Pressley, but her strike just missed wide of the near post.
Orlando's Jasmyne Spencer was held silent in the first half with only a couple of light touches on the ball -- no long-ball runs or clear opportunities for a cross. Houston managed to make the best of stretching out the Orlando back four, which created most of their chances to score. Although Houston's rhythm was slightly off in first half hour and its sharpness of passing was lacking, Orlando's strong defending kept a sudden rally of a good string of passes by Houston away from goal late in the first half.
The half ended quietly with a final corner kick by Houston earned off of a near miss, with a coulda-been-an-own-goal defending flub by Bélanger.
The Pride rejoined the field after halftime with the same XI, but the pep talk from Head Coach Tom Sermanni obviously had an immediate impact on the team, as the Pride's pace and play was significantly improved from the first 45 minutes of action. An initial downing of Steph Catley with an elbow to the back of the neck clearly made her more resilient through the second half, as the Australian was instrumental in keeping the ball at pace and assisting with chances.
After a somewhat lackluster display, Kaylyn Kyle was subbed out in the 56th minute and Sam Witteman was brought in. The rookie was immediately more effective at getting the ball into the box and passing to her teammates. With her first touch, Witteman almost scored from eight yards out and came close to putting the Pride on the board.
On defense, a strongly defended header out by Pressley led to a Morgan Brian corner, driven to the near post, but it was easily cleared by Edwards. Another chance for Houston came just after by Poliana, after a cross in by Andressa, and had Harris running to catch it. A call on a handball by the Dash's Cari Roccaro resulted in a free kick chance by Sanderson, which came to nothing. Another great shot by Witteman came in the 71st minute, after she ran right up the middle, but it was easily handled by the Dash's keeper, Lydia Williams.
One of the best opportunities of the night for the Dash resulted in a save from Harris with two hands, pushing the ball out of the net off a long pass to Andressa. However, the Dash could not convert their chances fast enough.
The lone goal of the night came in the 81st minute from an amazing strike by Kristen Edmonds -- just two days before her birthday -- from about 25 yards out from goal. The play started off a counter attack initiated by Sanderson, who pushed the ball forward to Witteman. After Witteman cut inside from the left and had her initial shot blocked, the ball came back out to Sanderson, and she threaded a beautiful ball across the field to Edmonds, who then smashed the ball into the top left corner, ringing the crossbar as it bounced into the back of the net. Watch for this one to be a goal of the week candidate for sure.
As a reward for Sanderson's hard work, she was subbed out in the 84th minute, with Maddy Evans coming in to relieve her.
The three minutes of added time to the second half seemed to stretch on as both Houston and Orlando went down to 10 players. Edmonds first and then Andressa both had to come off the field due to injuries. However, neither team was able to take advantage of the other's loss, and the game ended with the 1-0 scoreline in favor of the Pride, as they earned their first away three points of the season.
All in all, a great success by the Pride for getting points on the road, but a tough showing from the Dash, who are clearly missing their form without the benefit of their star Carli Lloyd's speed and leadership to help guide the team to victory.
Orlando will be back in action next Saturday night against FC Kansas City at Swope Soccer Village. Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris will miss the match due to international duty.