KISSIMMEE, FL — The Orlando Pride fell to the Houston Dash 2-1 in Orlando’s first home game of the year. But rather than at Exploria Stadium, the match was played at Osceola County Stadium without fans. Kristie Mewis continued her hot run of form for the Dash (3-1-0, 9 points) with two assists, and Houston completely dominated Orlando (0-2-1, 1 point) in the first half behind goals by Shea Groom and Veronica Vlatsko.
Sydney Leroux provided a spark immediately after halftime with her first goal since 2018, but the Pride couldn’t find an equalizer. The second half performance was a huge improvement from Orlando over the opening 45 minutes, but the hole was too deep to climb out of.
“It was an absolute tale of two halves,” said Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner after the match. “I don’t know how many games I have been involved when that’s applied. We were nowhere near good enough first half. We weren’t brave enough on the football. We didn’t want the football enough. We were running like we were a yard off the pace and so at halftime we spoke about what it means to play for Orlando.
“There was no real tactical kind of adaptation, it was more about the energy and the fire they need to take to wear our jersey. And it just wasn’t present in the first half from from the collective. So in the second half, they got better, they understood that, and you know it took a bad situation the first half to get a reaction for the second period and I was really, really pleased that even though you take the loss you have a growth within the game. And what I need my younger players to understand is that you can’t waste time and so it’s really important that’s the key message from this game.”
Ashlyn Harris was not with the team tonight because of the death of her grandmother. Rookie Brittany Wilson got her first NWSL start in net in place of the U.S. international. Toni Pressley took a bench role tonight, but she entered the match at the start of the second half. Rookie Konya Plummer got her first NWSL start in Pressley’s place. Meanwhile, Sydney Leroux and Kristen Edmonds returned to the starting lineup after not traveling to Houston two weeks ago because of COVID-19 concerns.
“I knew that there was a chance a couple of days ago [that I’d start] and so for all of these games I’ve been preparing as if I was going in or if I was starting,” Wilson said. “So the weeks kind of look the same. I was really studying everything that we were doing. I was doing all my protocols and stuff that I would do pregame. But this week I knew a couple days in. I was able to get in with the back line, know our game plan, really lock it in, and then just prepare mentally, and at the end of the day, once the whistle blew, I just tried to let it all go and do my best.”
Houston took control of the game quickly. After a few offside calls, the Dash found the opening goal in the 17th minute. Carrie Lawrence turned the ball over near midfield, and it took her a while to get up and recover. Brianna Visalli played a wide-open Mewis down Orlando’s right side, and Mewis sent in a perfect cross. Groom came flying into the box unmarked and headed in the game’s opening goal.
Kristie Mewis serves it up and Shea Groom heads it home pic.twitter.com/iQhZLQFbns— CBS Sports Soccer (@CBSSportsSoccer) October 9, 2020
It was a scary moment a few minutes later. Lawrence took the ball to her stomach blocking a shot, and the trainers were immediately called onto the field. She was stretchered off the field and eventually brought to a hospital for precautionary reasons.
Abby Elinsky came on for the Lawrence. She took the right wing spot and Kristen Edmonds dropped to right back.
“I think with Kristen it just showed that we were comfortable in moving her around the field because we understood the base knowledge was there,” Skinner said. “Obviously, physically she gave everything tonight. She’s out on her feet at the end. So I was really, really pleased with her but I need my players to understand every position, and that’s going to be the ask of the players and the commitment to put it for next season. You have to give everything you have to give, but you have to understand the roles and responsibilities for everyone. And for 90 minutes, you’ve got to concentrate harder than the opposition, and you’ve got to work harder than them.”
Wilson made an excellent one-on-one save on a Latsko breakaway in the 26th minute. However, she was in the exact same position minutes later, and the Dash got the better end of it this time. Latsko made a run towards goal, and Orlando’s back line was lost. Ali Krieger stepped up to push Latsko off, but Edmonds kept the Dash forward on. Mewis played the perfect ball in, and Latsko rounded Wilson and easily scored to double Houston’s lead.
Houston led in every statistical category at the break except for fouls. Houston had 11 shots, four shots on target, and three corners — the Pride finished the half with goose eggs in all those categories. The visitors also held 63% possession. Skinner said that “the players weren’t happy with the first half.” He did not change much tactically, but instead spoke to the players about improving their mindset.
Orlando made one change to start the half. Plummer’s night was over, and Skinner brought on Pressley. The veteran’s presence was immediately felt as she helped bring Orlando back into the match.
Pressley sent a long ball up top. Edmonds then played Elinsky out wide. Elinsky sent in a low cross to the front post, and Leroux was the first one there. She emphatically sent it into the back of the net to cut Houston’s lead to 2-1 on the Pride’s first shot of the match.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Leroux said of scoring her first goal since 2018. “I mean, I did spend a year pregnant. And then a year of not playing soccer, because of you know the whole coronavirus situation. So, I think it was nice. It’s been my second game — my proper second game — so I felt good. I feel fit. And I wish we had more time but unfortunately, it is what it is. So I’m excited to look ahead to next season and this next game coming up.”
Wilson made a spectacular save and then a blunder right before the hour mark. First, an unmarked Sophie Schmidt sent a great shot from outside the box destined for the top corner. Wilson got up and made a one-handed save that will likely be in the running for save of the week. Two minutes later, Mewis took a shot that should’ve been an easy save, but the Wilson spilled it. Luckily for the Pride, it went out for a corner.
The match was relatively uneventful after that moment. Both teams had a few chances, but Orlando only had one real opportunity to get that equalizer. Marta had an excellent chance to tie the game in the 77th minute. She was one-on-one with Jane Campbell, but she hit her shot at Campbell, making for an easy save from the ‘keeper.
Houston killed the game off late on. The Dash slowed the pace of play some and eventually took the ball into the corner, winning multiple corner kicks. It was a great improvement in the second half, but the Dash never looked like they were going to give up another goal.
In the second half, Orlando was outshot 9-5, but both teams had three shots on target, giving Houston a final margin of 20-5 (7-3 on target). Their passing accuracy increased from 63% to 67% in the second half, and possession was much closer (43%-57%). That gave Houston a final possession margin of 59.4%-40.6% and a passing accuracy edge of 78.1%-64.3%. The Pride conceded 10 corners in the match without winning a single one.
While it still was not spectacular, Orlando vastly improved in the second half and will look to build on that performance for the Pride’s final match of the NWSL Fall Series.
The Pride play in their first and only match of 2020 in Exploria Stadium on Oct. 17 when the North Carolina Courage come to Orlando in what is expected to be the season finale for both clubs.