ORLANDO, Fla. — Things went off the rails quickly for the Orlando Pride on Wednesday against the Houston Dash.
For most of the night, the Pride looked the better side. They scored the first goal, dominated possession and created a multitude of chances.
None of that mattered.
The Pride (6-4-4, 22 points) gave up two goals in four minutes late in the match and fell 2-1 to the visiting Dash (4-5-5, 17 points) in front of an announced crowd of 3,215 in Orlando City Stadium.
“I thought the first 30 minutes tonight was the best we’ve played all season,” Pride coach Tom Sermanni said. “Best we’ve played for a long time. We were incredibly dominant in the game. Probably should have come in at half time with a significant lead and finished the game.
“The same in the second half. That’s a lesson tonight that you learn in soccer sometimes is that 1-nil is never safe. We didn’t get that second goal to kind of finish them off to then ease the pressure on us.”
Orlando took an early lead, but the Dash found an equalizer in the 79th minute. It looked like Dash midfielder Kealia Ohai was trying to send a cross to the back post from distance. The ball found the back of the net over the outstretched arms of Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
“I wouldn’t consider that first goal a scoring chance,” Sermanni said. “The first goal was a mis-hit cross. It was as simple as that. That’s not a scoring chance, for me.”
Houston went ahead in the 84th minute off a penalty kick, which was converted by new acquisition Sofia Huerta. The penalty was earned after a cross from Ohai bounced off the arm of right back Poliana in the penalty area.
“I can’t really fault the performance except for the fact that we didn’t capitalize on the chances we created and we got punished for being a little bit sloppy a couple of times and lost a couple of goals,” Sermanni said. “It’s as simple as that. Overall, I thought our performance was, in general, very, very good tonight.”
Star forward Alex Morgan opened the scoring in a pretty strange way.
A corner kick from Marta bounced around a bit before finding the feet of midfielder Christine Nairn, who sent the ball in. It then bounced off the head of Houston Dash midfielder Clare Polkinghorne and to the feet of Pride centerback Shelina Zadorsky.
The assistant referee put his flag up, signaling Zadorksy was offside. Dash players put their hands up and relaxed a bit, and Zarosky played the ball to Alex Morgan at the back post, and Morgan tapped it in for a goal in the 22nd minute.
“You’re told from when you’re 5 years old to finish the play,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t matter whether she was [onside] or not. Once I put the ball away, I saw the ref’s flag up, then he put it down.
“You finish a play, whether that’s on the attacking side or the defensive side. I’m really happy that I finally got a home goal. I think that’s my first one of the year.”
Referee Kevin Broadley spoke with the assistant referee and the goal stood.
“Zadorsky received the ball by deliberate play from a defending Houston player,” the referees told the match pool reporter said after the Orlando loss.
The Pride created most of the chances and dominated possession at the start of the match. By halftime, Orlando enjoyed 64.6 percent of the possession and took a club-record 15 shots (four on target). The Dash took just three shots, two of which were on target, in the first 45 minutes.
Orlando finished the match with 60 percent of the possession and 21 shots. Sermanni said the team’s midfielders were much better about playing the ball forward, instead of looking for backward passes as they had during previous matches.
“I think Tom has put together a very possession-oriented team, so sometimes we look to possess the ball more than take risks and go forward,” Pride midfielder Dani Weatherholt said. “That’s something as a team we’re looking to do more.”
Morgan was particularly active Wednesday night. She earned a penalty kick in the 12th minute, but she hit it off the post. She tried to chip Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell on a counterattack, but sent the shot wide.
“I thought we dominated most of the game, so it was disappointing to not get a result tonight,” she said. “We have to stay turned on throughout the whole game. It’s just frustrating, because I felt like we should have got points throughout this midweek game.”
The Pride return to action Saturday against the league-leading North Carolina Courage in Orlando City Stadium.