The Orlando Pride (2-3-2, 8 points) were completely outclassed by the Houston Dash (3-1-2, 11 points), falling 5-0 in Texas. The hosts were led by a Nichelle Prince hat trick, with Rachel Daly and Michelle Alozie adding to the tally in a game the Pride were never in.
Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell made some significant changes to the team’s back line to start this game. Celia (illness) and Carrie Lawrence (ribs) were omitted from the team that traveled to Texas entirely. Starting left back Courtney Petersen made the trip but started the game on the bench. As a result, the back four consisted of Kerry Abello, Megan Montefusco, Toni Pressley, and Gunny Jonsdottir. The forward positions were much more typical, with Jordyn Listro, Viviana Villacorta, and Mikayla Cluff in the midfield and the normal front line of Sydney Leroux, Leah Pruitt, and Darian Jenkins.
“We had to make a lot of different moves and move players around and get them out of spots they’re usually in,” Cromwell said about the lineup changes. “It doesn’t make you feel super comfortable, but I know Gunny (Jonsdottir) was down for the challenge (of moving to right back) and she was fine with it.”
This game was all Houston from start to finish. The Pride left too many pockets of space in the back and looked disconnected up top. Several Houston chances were created by bad turnovers and poor marking by the Pride.
The first chance in the game came in the fifth minute when Shea Groom found Daly in the Pride box. The Dash captain found space between the two center backs but couldn’t quite get her foot to the ball, allowing Erin McLeod to collect it.
The Pride got their first chance a minute later when Abello sent a cross into the Dash box. There were forwards charging in, but the cross was too close to Jane Campbell and the Houston goalkeeper was able to catch it.
Orlando had another chance in the 10th minute when a long cross by Jonsdottir reached Leroux near the back post. Leroux dove to get her head to the ball and sent it toward the opposite post, but the attempt went wide. That was the first of several missed opportunities for Leroux on the night.
Following that chance by Leroux, it was all Houston, a common theme for the Pride after the first 10 to 15 minutes of a half. In the 12th minute, Sophie Schmidt found Nichelle Prince darting in behind the Pride back line. However, Montefusco did well to beat her to the ball, allowing the Pride to gain possession.
A minute later, Schmidt attempted to catch McLeod off her line. It appeared as though the ball would beat McLeod if it were on target, but the ball went over the crossbar.
The ineptitude of the Pride in this game was on full display in the 17th minute when Pressley attempted to play the ball back to McLeod. It was a very poor pass that rolled wide of McLeod, leaving the goalkeeper chasing it towards her own net. Fortunately, it went wide and out for a corner kick.
In the 20th minute, Daly found Groom, who quickly played it forward for Prince. The forward controlled the ball inside the Pride box, but Montefusco did well to get back and win it.
After 12 minutes of complete domination by the hosts, the Pride finally got another chance in the 22nd minute. Leroux received the ball on the left side of the box and shot on target, but it was right at Campbell and the Dash shot stopper got down to block it away.
Following that chance, Houston took back control of the game. Maria Sanchez sent a dangerous ball through the box in the 24th minute, but no Dash players could get on the end of it.
Three minutes later, Houston got its much-deserved first goal. Daly had the ball near midfield and sent a long pass for Prince behind the Pride back line. Prince was able to beat Listro and Pressley didn’t do much to cover. As a result, McLeod was forced to cut down Prince’s angle. However, the forward put it past the Pride goalkeeper and on goal. Jonsdottir got her foot to the ball, attempting to clear it off the line, but only put it into the back of the net.
“I think we need to come out stronger in the first half because I feel like we’re always chasing the game,” Pruitt said about conceding the first goal. “So I think we just need to learn how to come out hot in the beginning.”
The Dash nearly scored a second in the 30th minute off of a bad Pride mistake. Listro’s throw-in was quickly played back by Leroux and the defender attempted to play it square to Villacorta. It was a terrible pass that sent Villacorta chasing the ball. Groom was the first to reach the ball and played it to Daly. Fortunately, the Dash’s top goal scorer coming into the game sent it over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, the Dash doubled their lead. Sanchez sent a great ball into the box, but it should’ve been handled by the back line. Despite being between two defenders, Daly was the only one to get her head on the ball, sending it over McLeod, who got caught off her line. The ball sailed just inside McLeod’s left post and the Dash took a 2-0 lead.
The Pride responded well to the second goal, quickly creating a chance of their own. In the 34th minute, Cluff sent a cross into the box for Leroux, breaking in on the back post. The forward was able to get her foot to it in a sliding effort, but the shot was wide of the target.
Five minutes later, the Dash made it three. After receiving the ball on the left from former Pride midfielder Marisa Viggiano, Prince used a sharp cut back to beat Jonsdottir. Her shot on goal was deflected by Montefusco, but the deflection redirected it into the back of the net.
Despite being up 3-0, the Dash didn’t stop their attack. In the 40th minute, another Pride turnover gave Groom enough space to attempt to beat McLeod over the top again. However, the ambitious shot was off target.
The Pride had another attempt and a shout for a penalty in the 42nd minute. Jenkins sent a long cross for Leroux near the back post, very similar to Cluff’s ball earlier in the half. Leroux and Haley Hanson were battling, with the latter appearing to tug on Leroux’s jersey. As a result, Leroux’s shot was right at Campbell who made the save. The Pride players appealed for a penalty, but referee Luis Guardia said no.
After Groom had tried to beat McLeod from distance twice in the first half, Hanson attempted to get on the scoresheet in the 44th minute. The defender took a shot from distance but sent it off target.
Despite the 3-0 halftime scoreline, the statistics looked as though the Pride were much better. Orlando had more possession (52%-48%) and crosses (7-6), as well as better passing accuracy (78.2%-73.9%). However, Houston had more shots (8-6) and shots on goal (3-2).
“One thing that we changed was our formation,” Petersen said about the halftime changes. “We matched them in a 3-5-2 and I think that helped us a lot in the midfield. And at the end of the day, we said we have nothing to lose. You know, we’re going into halftime at 3-0. And we have to push, you know. We have to go for a goal.”
As the second half began, Cromwell made a couple of changes in an attempt to get back into the game. Julie Doyle and Petersen were brought on for Jonsdottir and Pressley. However, it didn’t make much of a difference.
Just four minutes into the second half, the Dash made it a 4-0 game. Groom took the ball towards the end line, where she ran out of space. Doyle tried to push her out of play but was unsuccessful. Montefusco had a chance to clear it away, but her poor attempt went right to Prince.
While it was a poor defensive effort for the Pride, Prince deserves plenty of credit for the goal. Her first touch was a chip over McLeod and just inside the far post, giving her team a 4-0 lead.
The goal marked Prince’s first hat trick at the club level — she had one for Canada — and was the first hat trick in the nine-year history of the Houston Dash.
Despite the bad start to the half and falling behind by four goals, the Pride still attempted to get back into the game. In the 55th minute, Leroux sent a cross into the box but it was cleared away by Katie Naughton.
A minute later, Leroux nearly got one back for the Pride when she got her head to a good Petersen cross. The ball beat Campbell but not the post as it hit the woodwork, allowing Houston to clear.
Leroux had another chance in the 58th minute when she was sent down the left by Petersen. She looked to beat Campbell, but sent the ball high and wide of the target.
The Dash nearly increased the lead to five in the 60th minute when Sanchez found Hanson open in the box. The defender lost Cluff to find the space to get the header on goal, but it hit the crossbar. The rebound went to Sanchez, who followed the play, but her attempt was off target.
Alozie came on in the 81st minute during a double substitution that also saw the hat trick hero leave. The late addition made an immediate impact, nearly making it 5-0. Less than a minute after coming on, the attacker was sent through by Emily Ogle. Montefusco was initially with her but slipped, allowing Alozie to go in alone on goal. She fired past McLeod, but sent her shot wide of the target.
Six minutes later, she had another opportunity and did make it five. Groom made a long run through the midfield, through several tired Pride defenders, eventually sending it forward for Alozie. Parker Roberts, who had come on in the 76th minute, attempted to keep up but the forward was too quick. The two had a brief stumble but Alozie stayed on her feet. After missing her first breakaway, Alozie sent the second chance right by McLeod’s left foot and in for the fifth goal of the game.
Each team had a chance as the game neared full time, despite the result having been decided. In the 89th minute, Kylie Strom had a shot from the penalty spot but sent it well off target.
Houston had its final attempt three minutes into injury time when Groom made another good run and played it through for Joele Anderson. The second-half substitute put it past McLeod but was unable to hold her run and was judged offside. That was the final chance for either team as the Dash came away with a commanding 5-0 win.
In the end, the Pride held more possession (58.2%-41.8%) and were much more accurate with their passes (81.1%-68.8%). However, the Dash had more shots (14-12) and more shots on target (6-3) throughout the 90 minutes.
“The first half puts you in a bind and so we changed things up. I’m always a coach, so I’m going to go for it. You know, I’d rather lose 5-0 trying to get it back to three, get some goals, then stay at 3-0 not trying,” Cromwell said about the game. “So we changed formation. Obviously we’re pushing, I think the shots ended 14-12. I think we hit the post, had some chances. But nothing fell our way tonight. Everything they touched in the box was golden and it just feels pretty bad.”
“I think it’s about just forgetting about the previous games and just moving forward,” Pruitt added. “So I think we just need to forget about it, work to the next game, and just try to be positive. And we have talent and we have the mentality to win. So we just have to figure out how to do it.”
The 5-0 defeat matches the worst result in the seven-year history of the Pride. They previously lost 5-0 on April 17, 2019 to the North Carolina Courage away and then lost 6-1 on Sept. 14, 2019 to the same opponent in the same location.
“In the transition game, we have to be so much better defending,” Cromwell said about conceding five times. “We have to help Erin (McLeod) out. We have to help each other out. Be closer in pressure cover situations. There’s a lot of things we could’ve done better defensively to give ourselves a chance in this game.”
While it was a strong performance by Houston, multiple goals were caused by defensive mistakes. The center back pairing of Montefusco and Pressley left too much space for Daly and Prince and too many balls were given away in dangerous positions.
“I think we just need to have confidence on the ball,” Pruitt said about the turnovers. “There is a lot of goals that we’ve given up that were on us. So I feel like if we can fix that and just play together, it’ll be a lot different outcome. And if we can capitalize on the mistakes that other teams make, it could be a totally different game.”
The Pride will now have an extended break as they don’t play until next Sunday. The team will look to bounce back as they face the Chicago Red Stars in Bridgeview, IL.