The Orlando Pride had two players sent off and conceded a penalty, falling to the Houston Dash 1-0 in front of 5,106 fans at Exploria Stadium. It was a slow game with few chances, but the game got exciting late on. Orlando (3-10-2, 11 points) ended the match with nine players as Julie King — on her first Pride appearance — and Marta both got straight red cards, and Rachel Daly converted a penalty to give Houston (6-7-4, 22 points) the win.
“I don’t think we were quick enough first half,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “I thought we could have cut them open. We could have hurt them. We didn’t do that. The second half is obviously a joke.”
Skinner made a few changes to the starting XI from that win over Sky Blue. Ashlyn Harris started in net and earned her 100th career NWSL regular-season appearance. Ali Krieger made her 50th appearance for the Pride (all starts). King was signed to the team just two days ago and went straight into the starting XI, while Carson Pickett returned to left back. Marisa Viggiano, Alanna Kennedy, and Joanna Boyles made up the middle three and Claire Emslie (first NWSL start), Marta, and Chioma Ubogagu made up the front line.
“I thought [King] stepped in really seamlessly,” Boyles said. “That’s a huge credit to her. She’s practiced with us for a week or so — not even — so for her to be able to jump in and do, I thought, a really great job, that’s a huge credit to her.”
The Dash held 54% possession in the first half, but the majority of it was in their own half or the middle third of the field. They were credited with one shot on goal, but it was a harmless shot from Kealia Ohai near the end of the half. Other than that, Houston was pretty poor. While the Dash did well in possession, they struggled to connect with passes going forward and almost every pass in the final third was a giveaway.
The Pride played very direct, but, like the Dash, struggled once they got into the final third. Marta had an off half and was not her usual creative self. This continued into the second half, and then emotions go the better of her when she was sent off.
Houston’s best chance of the half came in the 35th minute. The ball was bouncing around in the box and somehow found Sofia Huerta, who was all alone at the penalty spot. Huerta took a heavy touch, and Krieger was able to make a sliding challenge to end the attack.
About 10 minutes later, Orlando had its best chance of the half and should have scored. The Pride had an impressive spell of possession. Viggiano then passed the ball off to Ubogagu, who was all alone in the box. With Jane Campbell coming off her line, Ubogagu took her shot, and it went inches wide of the post.
The half ended without any goals. The Pride had more shots (8-5) and shots on target (2-1). The majority of the half was played in the middle of the field though. Skinner started the game in the box upstairs, but then was back on the field in the second.
“It was because I didn’t see the energy I wanted,” Skinner said on why he went to the sideline in the second half. “I didn’t see two changes of pace. So, if you’re going to press, you press and then you cut off the nine and then go again. I didn’t see that. I thought tactics the players were excellent. I just wanted to see that extra little bit.”
The second half started much the same as the first, and neither team was able to get good control of the match. There was a decent number of turnovers by both sides, and they were poor in the final third.
“I think the past three games we scored eight goals so I don’t think it’s us not being able to create chances,” Boyles said. “Sometimes soccer is a cruel game, and we were inches, centimeters away from scoring. We created some really good chances and it just comes back to haunt us later on. That’s just unfortunately how the game goes sometimes.”
The game got exciting in the 60th minute. Kristie Mewis dribbled the ball down the middle of the box. King pulled her shoulder, then fouled her. After a few moments of conversation, the referee awarded a straight red for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, and King’s debut ended. Huerta took the ensuing free kick but skied it into the stands.
Orlando lost another player in the 85th minute. Kristen Edmonds tripped up Ohai in the box and the referee rightly awarded a penalty to Houston. There was a scuffle in the box and it looked like Marta took a swing at someone. The referee immediately gave a red to Marta, and Orlando was down to nine players. Huerta easily converted the spot kick as Harris dove the wrong way.
Skinner said that after going down to nine players from a tactics standpoint “is mad.”
Houston went into a defensive shell after that goal, but it got pretty physical. The Dash cleared the ball every time they got it The Pride attempted to play direct but could not connect on their long passes.
Houston led in shots (13-11), but the Pride had more shots on goal (3-2). Possession was slightly in favor of the Dash (54%), but Houston did not do much with the possession, holding it in the middle third and their own half for most of the match.
Krieger was asked about the officiating after the match and, while she didn’t blame the loss on the referee, she did not hold back her criticism of the quality of the league’s officiating.
“We’re putting a good product out on the field, and every year we’re getting better, and the referees seem like they’re not,” Krieger said. “So, I beg the NWSL, the standard needs to be higher. It’s just unfortunate that you feel like the referee ruining the game. They’re taking the fun out of the game because they’re not good enough.”
The Pride are back in action next week when they host the Utah Royals on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET.