The Orlando Pride failed to capitalize on their chances and fell to the Houston Dash 3-1 in BBVA Compass Stadium. The Pride (7-6-4, 25 points) now must go into Utah on Saturday in what will feel like a must-win game. For the Dash (5-6-5, 20 points) the win puts them into the mix of the playoffs, albeit they still have some work to do.
Rachel Daly notched a brace to lead the Dash and although Sydney Leroux pulled one back, the Pride were unable to complete the comeback after about a two-hour weather delay. Houston added a stoppage time insurance goal.
With so few games remaining in the season, and three of the four playoff positions very much up for grabs, coming down the final stretch the Pride cannot afford to drop any points. This becomes tricky in multi-game weeks and Tom Sermanni brought out some surprises to his starting XI, clearly with eyes towards Saturday.
Ali Krieger did not make the 18 and instead Poliana played right back. Alex Morgan returned from injury and went straight into her starting spot, but the biggest, and most welcoming, surprise was seeing Camila return to the starting XI. The Brazilian lasted 60 minutes and looked visibly tired by the end of her shift.
The Pride dominated the beginning of the game, playing possession soccer and looking for an opening. However, it was Houston that had the first chance of the game. Poliana turned the ball over and the Dash went on a counter. This led to a cross in to Sofia Huerta, who was wide open at the top of the box. Huerta probably should’ve scored but Ashlyn Harris made a diving save to keep the game goalless.
Orlando regained control and, after a long spell of possession, Morgan put a cross into the back post to Leroux, whose header went wide of the post. Four minutes later, Morgan tried a back heel to Marta, but the pass was poor. Morgan was able to regain control of the ball and tried a shot from about 25 yards out that was easily saved by Jane Campbell.
Mother Nature then decided to put a halt to the game as it started to downpour. After a minute of playing in the rain, the lightning started and the players went inside. The rain delay lasted about two hours.
Coming out of the gates for the second time Orlando was still in control, as Morgan nearly put the visitors up after the restart. She ran onto a terrible back pass and fired with her left foot but hit the post. It was a costly miss.
Minutes later, Houston struck first. Alanna Kennedy made an awful pass out of Camila’s reach that Kealia Ohai was able to intercept and pass down the field to Daly with the Pride’s center backs well beaten. Daly then did the rest and put Houston up, 1-0.
In the 25th minute, Campbell nearly gifted the Pride a goal. Her distribution went right to Leroux at the top of the box but Orlando could not capitalize on the opportunity. Following this, Ashlyn Harris made work of a bad back pass and took on two Houston players with her feet before passing it off to Shelina Zadorsky.
There were not many more chances over the remainder of the half. Orlando kept the ball but Houston held its shape and defended with nine players, so the Pride’s possession did not lead to anything. Orlando finished the half with 63% possession and an impressive 80% passing accuracy but this led to just two shots on target. Houston took advantage of its ball possession and finished the first half up a goal, with three shots on target, and more than 100 fewer passes than Orlando.
Houston came into the second half flying and Daly nearly got her brace just 17 seconds into it. While her shot went wide, she got her second five minutes later. This goal came from the poor decision of Harris to punch the ball away. It would have been a relatively easy grab but the keeper punched it, the ball never made it out of the 18, and Daly punished her.
The Pride did not sit back though and Leroux got her sixth goal of the year four minutes later. Morgan put a through ball in to Leroux and Orlando ended up with a corner. Kennedy got on the end of Marta’s service but her shot was blocked and Orlando won a another corner. Houston cleared the first ball but Zadorsky sent it straight back in and Leroux headed it home to cut the lead in half. It was Leroux’s team-leading sixth goal of the season.
The Pride continued to have possession but could not break the Dash’s defense which led to Sermanni putting in Rachel Hill and Chioma Ubogagu in the 70th minute, removing both fullbacks and moving to a bit of a 3-5-2. Orlando finished the game with five natural strikers on the field but was still unable to get another goal.
In the 73rd minute, Marta’s left-footed shot nearly went in but Campbell was there. Ten minutes later, Leroux should have had two goals. First, Ubogagu put in a great ball to Leroux but her header was right at Campbell, who made the save. Then, Hill found Leroux but she sent her header just wide.
Christina Unkel gave five minutes of stoppage time and it looked like the Pride might have another opportunity to equalize but it went downhill from there. Daly thought she got her hat trick but it was called back for offside. It did not matter for Houston though as Thembi Kgatlana slipped the ball under Harris and killed off the game.
However, the drama did not stop there. In the dying moments Marta was issued a straight red card for what looked to be touching a Houston player in either the neck or face. She will miss Saturday’s clash against Utah in a critical battle to get into the final four. This was Marta’s first ever red card as a Pride player and the first red card issued in the NWSL all season.
Orlando once again got off tons of shots — 26 to be exact — but had trouble hitting the target (6). The Pride had 64% possession but Houston looked the more threatening team as Orlando did not do enough with the ball. One of the more lopsided stats was that Unkel only called Houston for two fouls, compared to 10 for Orlando that includes two yellows and a straight red. Houston’s first foul came more than an hour into the game.
The Pride travel to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday to take on the Utah Royals FC at 7 p.m. ET.