The Orlando Pride (4-1-3, 15 points) fell for the first time in the 2021 NWSL regular season, losing 2-1 to the Houston Dash (3-3-1, 10 points) at BBVA Stadium. A poor first half for the Pride was the difference as the Dash scored twice in eight minutes.
After keeping multiple starters out of the starting lineup in Kansas City, tonight’s game in Houston featured a familiar look. Taylor Kornieck’s midweek knock meant she was questionable for this game and ultimately kept out of the lineup. She was replaced by Meggie Dougherty Howard, who moved into an attacking role. Chelsee Washington was given her second NWSL regular season start alongside Gunny Jonsdottir in the defensive midfield.
The Pride got the first real good chance of the game in the fifth minute. Alex Morgan headed the ball toward the Dash goal twice, forcing Jane Campbell to punch the ball back out. However, the Dash ultimately were able to clear. After that, the first half was all Houston.
In the 10th minute, Allysha Chapman sent a lovely ball into the Pride box, looking for Nichelle Prince near the back post. Fortunately for the Pride, the ball was just over the head of Prince and went out for a goal kick.
The Dash attack continued as the home side won three corner kicks in two minutes. The third corner resulted in two shots as the Pride defense was unable to clear.
The Dash finally converted in the 18th minute. Kristie Mewis sent a cross into the box which found Maria Sanchez. The first shot was right at Ashlyn Harris, who attempted to punch the ball out rather than catching it. Her punch attempt was poor, sending the ball off the post beside her and it bounced right back out front to Sanchez, who put it away for the game’s opening goal.
Houston nearly doubled its lead in the 20th minute when Mewis found Veronica Latsko in front of goal. The forward took a little too much time, allowing Phoebe McClernon to slide in before Latsko could get a shot off.
However, the Dash did double their lead six minutes later. As happened too frequently in the first half, Latsko found herself wide open between the center backs in the Pride box. Sophie Schmidt found the forward, who put the ball past Harris for the second goal of the game.
The Pride defense has been stellar this year but struggled in this game. After just 26 minutes, the Pride conceded twice for only the second time this year and the first time in the NWSL regular season. The only other time they’d conceded two goals was the first Challenge Cup game in Louisville on April 10.
“I think we just needed to step up a little bit,” Jonsdottir said about the first half defense after the game. “Not give them the space we were giving them. We were kind of far from each other. That happens with fatigue. Communication wasn’t really there.”
The Pride nearly gave the Dash their third goal in the 30th minute through an own goal. Nichelle Prince beat Courtney Petersen to the end line, as happened often in this game, and cut the ball back in front of goal. McClernon was able to deflect the ball but almost did so into her own net. Fortunately for McClernon and the Pride, the deflection was wide of the goal.
The final chance for the Dash in the first half came from Gabby Seiler. The midfielder slipped in between two Pride defenders, creating space to receive a long pass. She had a great opportunity for a shot on goal, but sent the shot above the target.
“I wasn’t happy with the first half,” Jonsdottir said following the game. “I don’t think we really showed up for the first half. The first half showed that we were fatigued and we were not playing like we wanted to. But we got to halftime. And then we kind of got the team together and decided to give everything we got and we did that. Unfortunate not to put in another.”
The Pride got off to a great start in the second half. Just a couple of minutes into the second period of play, the Pride won three straight corners. While the second corner forced Jane Campbell into a good save, the third resulted in the team’s first goal.
The low corner by Marta found the head of Jonsdottir at the near post. The Icelandic international beat her defender to the ball and headed it toward the far post, bringing the Pride back to within a goal.
“It was a great corner from Marta and I got a little touch,” Jonsdottir said about her first goal with the Pride. “So I guess it’s half my goal and half hers.”
“We got the goal because of our energy and commitment to each other,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said about the goal. “Everything we’re trying to do was there.”
The Pride had another good chance in the 59th minute when Katie Naughton took down Morgan just outside of the box. Marta stepped up to take the free kick and sent it low toward the near post. Campbell did well to get low and caught the bouncing ball before it reached the goal line.
In the 63rd minute, the Dash nearly scored their third as they looked to put the game away. Another dangerous Mewis corner found the head of Latsko, who was looking for her second goal. She made good contact with her head but was unable to get over the ball and sent it just over the net.
While Mewis had set up most of the chances for the Dash, she nearly got a goal of her own inside the final 10 minutes. In the 81st minute, Mewis found some space at the top of the box and sent a low shot toward the far post. Harris’ dive showed how close to the post the shot was but it travelled just wide of the target.
Two minutes into injury time, Morgan had a chance to net the Pride’s second, receiving the ball in the box. It appeared as though she had time to bring it down, but with her back to goal, attempted an acrobatic flick. She wasn’t able to get much on it and Campbell made the save.
The Pride were dominated in every statistical category in the first half, but drew closer with a much better second 45 minutes. In the end, the Dash led in total shots (14-7), possession (55%-45%), corners (8-6), and crosses (26-12). The Pride were able to record more shots on target (4-3).
The struggles of the team can largely be chalked up to playing three games in six days and staying on the road between the second and third of those matches. The players were clearly tired from it and it had an impact on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
“I can only speak for myself. I was a bit tired. I’m not gonna lie,” Jonsdottir said. “I was also coming off of two games in the FIFA window and then these games with the travel, it’s a lot to learn. But as I say, all you can do is your best.”
“You’re gonna suffer when the schedule is put in front of you where it’s almost at risk of your players’ health,” Skinner added. “We found that out against Kansas. So I think it’s a ridiculous way of putting a schedule together where a team has five days of freshness on another team.”
The loss is the Pride’s first of the 2021 NWSL regular season and the second of the year. The other loss came on April 14 in the NWSL Challenge Cup, a 1-0 loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC. The loss ends a seven-game unbeaten run, the second longest to start a season in the Pride’s six-year history. The longest ever unbeaten run was nine games, occurring between Aug. 5 and Sept. 30 of 2017.
Despite the loss, Skinner said that he’s proud of his team for fighting through a difficult week. The final game of a two-game road trip and three games in six days was not an easy task.
“I’m more proud of the players tonight than I am whenever they’ve won a game,” Skinner said. “Because, although the technicality maybe suffered, we had the guile and the togetherness and the focus to try and get back in the game.”
The Pride will look to bounce back from this loss and begin a new streak when they welcome the North Carolina Courage to Exploria Stadium on July 4.