Jasmyne Spencer's first goal with the Orlando Pride couldn't have been much bigger. The diminutive speedster tapped home a cross from Sarah Hagen in stoppage time to lift the Pride to a 1-0 win over the Houston Dash in front of an announced crowd of 6,870 at Camping World Stadium.
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Pride, as well as a goal-less drought of more than 360 minutes. The team had not scored since Kristen Edmonds' rocket on May 20 that beat the Dash in Houston by the same score. Orlando hits the halfway mark of its inaugural NWSL season with a 5-5-0 record and tied for fourth on points with Western New York Flash, who have a game in hand.
"It was awesome," Spencer said about scoring her first goal for the Pride. "I knew tonight was going to be a big game for us. We definitely needed to win and I'm just happy that I could help the team get it done tonight."
Captain Alex Morgan, who had a rather rough night in terms of finishing, started the winning play in the left corner of the box near the end line. Morgan's diagonal cross beat a sliding Ellie Brush and Spencer dummied the ball through to Jamia Fields in the top right corner of the box. Fields tried a move and then found Sarah Hagen, who quickly slotted across to Spencer, who had continued her run after the dummy. All alone in front, Spencer merely needed to get a touch to beat goalkeeper Lydia Williams, which she did easily.
FULLTIME: Orlando Pride - 1 | Houston Dash - 0— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) June 24, 2016
Spencer with the stoppage time goal! #Clutch #3points pic.twitter.com/O6zLpZD99D
Spencer was asked after the match about the dummy run and wasn't sure if she did it intentionally or if she just missed Morgan's cross coming through the box.
"I don't even know. Maybe it was (intentional)," she said. "I guess so, if it worked."
"Players like Jas who have got that pace and that spark are sometimes more effective coming off the bench," Tom Sermanni said after the match. "Sometimes substitutes work, sometimes they don't and tonight they did. It was great to see her get her first goal. She's worked really hard for it so I was really, really delighted for her."
It was a great finish to what wasn't the best second half for Orlando. The Dash got on the front foot shortly after halftime and provided the better chances, including a Rachel Daly bicycle kick attempt in the 91st minute that forced an outstanding diving save from an outstretched Ashlyn Harris.
Houston had a number of good opportunities in the second half, testing Harris three times after the break but the USWNT keeper was up to the task. The Dash also helped Harris a few times, such as in the 85th minute, when a wide open Becca Moros headed wide of a gaping net.
Fields, making her first start for Orlando, was a force all night for the Pride, using her pace and strength to worry the Houston defense. She certainly gave Tom Sermanni something to think about when filling out future lineup cards.
"It's been a tough road for Jamia because she hasn't had much game time at all. She's had no starts (until) 10 games in," Sermanni said. "And she's continually turned up to training every day and put in a great shift, stayed focused, and worked really hard.
"Over the last couple weeks we've started to see her form improve both in training and when she's come on in games. And we felt it was the kind of game tonight where we needed sort of fresh legs and somebody with that energy and that pace and that physicality and I think she gave us all of that. I'm delighted she got the opportunity and thought she did well."
The Pride started on the front foot and had a half chance right off the bat, with Morgan heading one wide in the opening minute. They fashioned the first good scoring chance 11 minutes in when Fields stole the ball in the offensive half and sent Morgan down the right side of the box, but the captain missed well high.
A minute later, Morgan again failed to find the target off a wonderful cross by Josee Belanger that fell right onto the USWNT striker's head but went over the bar. It was a glorious chance and Belanger's ball deserved a finish but Morgan couldn't get it on frame.
Orlando registered the first shot on target in the 18th minute when Kristen Edmonds tried from distance but it lacked power and was right at Williams.
Houston finally got a shot on target in the 28th when Daly's good effort from the top of the box sent Harris diving to make the save. That was it for the good scoring chances in the opening period, as the teams went to the locker room without a goal between them.
Morgan had the first decent chance of the second half just moments after halftime but again pushed her shot wide. It was that kind of night for the U.S. international, who was denied near the end of normal time on a two-on-one break with Spencer. Morgan either didn't see her teammate or simply opted to have a go herself but it was right at Williams. That missed opportunity merely served to make the final moment bigger for the smallest player on the pitch.
The Pride improve to 3-0 against the Dash with one more game in Houston to come. Orlando has now been involved in eight consecutive shutouts, being on the winning end of four and dropping four as well.
"We talked tonight about really going out and basically playing what Orlando Pride and Orlando City and this club stands for, and I think the players did that tonight," Sermanni said. "And we even went a step further by doing it like Orlando City with a goal in the last minute. So we're keeping up the tradition. I didn't want Adrian (Heath) to get all the credit for these last-minute goals."
Orlando won't wait long to get back on the pitch, hosting the Portland Thorns on Sunday at 5 p.m.