After going up early, the Orlando Pride allowed two goals in four minutes as they fell to the Houston Dash (4-5-5, 17 points), 2-1 in front of a mere 3,215 fans in Orlando City Stadium. The Pride (6-4-4, 22 points) remain in second place for now, pending the outcomes of tonight’s late games.
Alex Morgan put the Pride ahead with her third goal of the season but Orlando wasted several good scoring opportunities in the opening half hour and ultimately conceded a late fluke goal on a Kealia Ohai cross and a penalty to Sofia Huerta just four minutes later.
“I thought the first 30 minutes was the best we’ve played here all season,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said. “Best we’ve played for a long time. We were incredibly dominant in the game and probably should have come in at halftime with a significant lead and finished the game. The lesson tonight that you learn in soccer sometimes is that one-nil is never safe. And we didn’t get that second goal to kinda finish them off.”
Sermanni made three changes to the lineup that beat Washington over the weekend. Emily van Egmond made way for Dani Weatherholt, Marta was brought back into the starting XI and, Kristen Edmonds got a surprise start up top as Sermanni looked forward to Saturday’s clash against North Carolina.
The Pride controlled the first 30 minutes of the half and held 75% possession for the first half hour. Houston sat back and defended and sent many balls forward that were easily intercepted by Orlando.
Just 40 seconds into the game and Carson Pickett nearly put the Pride up but her shot went over the bar. A few minutes later, Houston had a rare chance as Shelina Zadorsky had a poor turnover but luckily Monica was there to stop the attack.
In the 12th minute, Morgan could not have asked for a better opportunity. She used some nifty footwork to get into the box and was taken down by Clare Polkinghorne. Morgan took the penalty kick and had Jane Campbell diving the wrong way but her shot hit the post and the game remained scoreless.
Morgan would get redemption though on a bizarre play that put Orlando up 1-0. After winning a corner, Marta put a good ball in that was bouncing around in the box. Houston was able to clear it but Christine Nairn won the ball back and sent it right back into the area. Zadorsky was standing in an offside position, but Polkinghorne headed it backwards negating the offside. At this point the entire Houston team stopped playing and stuck their arms in the air so Morgan had a simple finish standing alone on the back post on Zadorsky’s cross.
The response by the officials after the game of why Zadorsky was not called offside was because “Zadorsky received the ball by deliberate play from a defending Houston player.” The assistant referee did raise the flag but the referee never blew the whistle so play continued.
“You’re told when you are five years old to finish the play,” Morgan said. “So it doesn’t matter if [Zadorsky was offside] or not, I put the ball away. I saw the ref’s flag up then he put it down. You finish a play. It doesn’t matter if that’s on the attacking side or defensive side. I’m really happy that I got a home goal.”
The Pride continued to dominate the match but then after the half hour mark the Dash started to take control of the game. Houston now maintained the possession and looked much more organized defensively. This led to the first shot on goal in the 38th minute for the Dash, as Huerta’s shot went right into the chest of Ashlyn Harris.
The first half ended with the Pride up 1-0 but they could have scored two or three more goals. Their 15 shots in the first half is a team recorded and they held 65% possession. The start of the second half saw the Pride regain control of the match but this only lasted about five minutes as Huerta nearly tied the game in the 49th.
Edmonds had a few opportunities to start the half. She first tried to get on the end of a cross but did not make good contact. Then in the 52nd minute she saw Marta running down the right hand side and but her ball was just a bit too far for the Brazilian.
“I thought Kristen Edmonds had a terrific game,” said Sermanni. “She put in an inordinate amount of work, she was good on the ball, she kept possession for us well most of the time, and she did what Kristen Edmonds does really well. And that is the value of having someone like her in the squad.”
In the 58th minute, the Pride won a corner and Marta put a cross in that bounced around. It ended up getting behind Campbell but Lina Motlhalo was standing on the goal line and cleared it away from danger.
The teams continued to battle in the second half but neither could get many good chances. Weatherholt tried a back heel flick in the 63rd minute that almost found its way in. Ten minutes later, Alanna Kennedy’s got on the end of a free kick but her header hit the post.
“I really wanted [the back heel] to go in but unfortunately did not get enough power on it,” said Weatherholt. “My body position was facing the other way and so I thought the only chance was to flick it on.”
Then, in the 79th minute, Houston took advantage of its chances. First, Ohai looked to cross the ball but mishit it and the ball ended up in the upper 90 of Harris’ goal as Houston leveled the game at one.
Then, in the 82nd minute, Ohai again tried to send a ball across — this time from inside the box. The ball hit Monica’s outstretched arm and the referee immediately pointed to the spot and Huerta buried the penalty.
“I wouldn’t consider the first goal a scoring chance. The first goal was a mishit cross,” said Sermanni. “[Ohai] is always a dangerous player and dangerous players, at some stage in the game, are going to create something. But I don’t sit here and say she produced two bits of magic to win the game because she didn’t. If she did I would say so but it was simply a mishit cross and an unfortunate penalty.”
The Pride tried throwing players forward at the end but could not find another goal. Orlando outshot (21-10), out possessed (60%), and out passed (493-327) the visitors but the Dash came away with the three points. There were also a large amount of fouls called at the end of the match and referee Kevin Broadley handed out four yellows after the 89th minute, all to Pride players.
“I thought it was a solid performance,” Weatherholt said. “We really competed against them and unfortunately gave up a goal late in the game and ultimately a penalty. Unhappy with the result but I thought we played consistent throughout the game.”
The Pride return to action again on Saturday as they take on NWSL leaders North Carolina in Orlando City Stadium at 3:30 p.m.