A soft second-half penalty allowed the Houston Dash to snap a 1-1 tie and go on to a 3-1 win over the Orlando Pride (0-1-1, 1 point) at BBVA Stadium in Houston, TX. Nichelle Prince and Marisa Viggiano canceled out each other’s goals in the first half, but Sophie Schmidt’s penalty kick put Houston (1-1-0, 3 points) ahead in the second half and Shea Groom added an insurance goal for the final margin.
Orlando was dominated all match long and spent the majority of it in its own half of the field. Houston’s press created some issues but several turnovers were unforced as well and the Pride opted not to bypass the press by playing over it.
“They’ve got to take responsibility to go forward, to move the ball quicker, and play around and we were miles off that tonight,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the game. “I think it was just the players not taking ownership of the moments that were happening in front of them, and and that’s a decision-making factor.”
Skinner made a few changes to last weekend’s lineup at North Carolina, but not at the back, as Ashlyn Harris again started in goal behind a back line of Courtney Petersen, Toni Pressley, Ali Krieger, and Carrie Lawrence. The changes came further up the pitch, as he was forced to replace Sydney Leroux and Kristen Edmonds. Both veteran players opted out of the match due to concerns about the travel arrangements and timing of happenings in Houston, which included a Dash player testing positive for COVID-19.
“I support every single player’s decision from that perspective,” Skinner said.
“I don’t blame players just saying, ‘no, it’s not for me I’m not going,’” said Harris. “And that’s what Kristen and Syd did, and it sucks and this is the reality.”
Savanah Uveges and Chelsee Washington got their first starts for the Pride in their places. Uveges started up top with Marta and Abby Elinsky, while Washington slotted into the midfield with Viggiano and Jordyn Listro. Skinner was left with just five players on his bench.
Marta got the first look for the Pride, fizzing a shot over the bar three minutes into the match. Then she sent a nice ball around the defense in the 10th minute to Elinsky but she couldn’t control it and Jane Campbell came off her line to smother it.
But the rest of the first half belonged primarily to the Dash. Houston pressed high and simply waited for Orlando to implode and it happened a lot. The Pride gave the ball away much too cheaply and often when not even under any pressure to do so. Bad back passes, wayward forward passes, and simple passes up the line that skipped out of play kept giving Houston the ball. The Dash had just over half the possession but when they did have the ball, they were usually picking it up in the attacking half. Meanwhile, the Pride’s possession consisted almost entirely of trying to escape their own defensive third in the opening half.
In the 13th minute, the turnovers started and they continued throughout the half. Groom jumped on a giveaway and cut in on goal. Harris came out and made a vital block to keep the game scoreless.
In the 15th minute, Prince dribbled across the top of the area and sent a weak shot through traffic. Harris didn’t see it right away and made a sprawling save, spilling the ball back into the six. Her defense came to her rescue, clearing the ball out off of a Houston attacker to win a goal kick.
Listro gave the ball away in the 20th minute and Veronica Latsko sent a shot toward Harris’ goal but it sailed over. Then a weak back pass from Pressley gifted Groom the ball in close and Harris was forced to come out and make a sliding challenge. Harris then made another big save on the follow-up shot to hold Houston at bay.
In the 27th minute, Houston manufactured the game’s opening goal from their own defensive third. Sophie Schmidt sent a simple long ball over the top. Prince ran past Orlando’s static back line, got on the end of the pass, and chipped it over Harris to make it 1-0.
The Dash kept coming, with Prince fizzing a dangerous cross through the box in the 39th minute but it was too far in front of her teammates. Two minutes later, Houston sent another ball into the area, forcing Pressley to clear it out for a corner. On the set piece, the ball ping-ponged off a few players and fell for Groom, who sent in a dribbler of a shot that was easy for Harris to scoop up.
Latsko fired off target from a tight angle in the 45th minute after Orlando again turned the ball over in its own end.
But in stoppage time, the Pride manufactured a goal. Washington got the ball in midfield and fed a nice ball down the left for Viggiano. The second-year pro dribbled into the area, cut to her right and slotted home past Campbell off the near post and in to make it 1-1 in the third minute of stoppage.
“I think we had a really good build-up down the left-hand side,” Viggiano said. “I saw Marta making a run and I think that made the defender hold off a little bit, which gave me space. And I saw the near post. This time I shot it low. And I think it hit the post and went in.”
Viggiano’s goal was just about the last kick of the first half. Overall, it was a poor half for the Pride in terms of game play but they were all even after 45 minutes.
Houston led in shots (11-3), shots on goal (5-1), corners (3-0), possession (53.8%-46.2%), and passing accuracy (84.6%-79.4%) but the Pride were improbably level at the half.
The Dash regained the lead early in the second half on a penalty kick. Houston sent a ball into the Orlando box over the top and Viggiano and Groom got a little tangled up but quickly separated. Groom made a lot out of the little contact, stumbling for several steps before going to ground. The referee bought it and awarded the spot kick. Sophie Schmidt fired it into the upper right side of the net past Harris to make it 2-1 in the 55th minute.
“[Groom] made a run and I tracked her,” Viggiano said of the penalty call. “I’m just going for the ball. I’ll have to watch it back and do better in that situation next time it happens and, you know, learn from it, grow from it, and just be better in that situation next game.”
The Dash continued to get looks on goal and free possessions due to the generous gift-giving of Orlando’s back line and midfield, who didn’t seem in sync at all. Prince cut across the top of the area and fired wide in the 59th minute and then Harris made another huge save in the 60th after Kristie Mewis took advantage of another Orlando turnover and fired a shot that forced a diving stop.
Katie Naughton nodded off the top of the bar a minute later off the ensuing corner kick. And a moment later Harris had to stop Mewis after Lawrence coughed up the ball in her own end. Harris stopped Groom in the 69th minute off a set piece as the shots kept raining down on her net.
Orlando finally got a chance in the 70th minute after a corner kick, with rookie Konya Plummer getting a touch on a recycled ball following Houston’s initial clearance. But the Jamaican center back didn’t make good contact and the shot skipped wide.
Groom added insurance by being the first to the ball pinging around Orlando’s penalty area in the 72nd minute. The Dash won a corner when Mewis again sliced right through the Pride defense to get in behind. Harris came far off her line but was beaten in the open field. Mewis sent the ball toward goal and Krieger knocked it out for the corner, narrowly missing her own net in the process.
On the ensuing set piece, Harris got a hand on the cross to knock it out to her left, but the Dash got to it first and sent it back into the area, where it ricocheted around until Groom got onto it and sent it in to make it 3-1.
That was about it, as the only question became whether Houston would add a fourth. Orlando never really threatened goal in the second half.
The Pride were out-shot by an incredible 27-6 margin (11-2 on goal). Houston won more corners (9-3), saw more of the ball (56.6%-43.4%), and was the more accurate passing club (85.1%-77.5%).
“Look, the players tried really hard tonight,” Skinner said. “There’s no denying they’ve physically grown and they gave everything that they needed to give from that perspective. But we weren’t intelligent without the ball enough tonight, we weren’t intelligent with the ball enough, and looked a little bit disconnected tonight.”
The Pride will have an opportunity for revenge in their next match on Friday, Oct. 9 at Osceola County Stadium, when they’ll host the Dash at 5 p.m.