With the season winding down, the Orlando Pride are searching for answers.
It’s a reversal of last season, when the Pride hit their stride over the final eight games of the 2017 campaign.
The Houston Dash (5-6-5, 20 points) took advantage of every mistake the Pride made Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium and beat Orlando (7-6-4, 25 points) for the second time in two weeks, dropping Tom Sermanni’s reeling squad 3-1.
“It was a typical Orlando Pride performance of this season, if I’m being honest,” Sermanni said. “We go through spells where we really command the game and step up. Then we go through spells where we’re really lethargic and off the pace and get punished for it in this league.
“In the first half we did not match the effort and the energy and enthusiasm of Houston.”
It was another surprising loss in a season full of head-scratchers for the Pride. Orlando dominated possession (65 percent to 35 percent), but the Dash were able to get out on the break and score twice.
“We’re having lapses defensively that we shouldn’t be having, that other teams don’t seem to have, that punish us,” Sermanni said.
Frustrations are clearly starting to boil over the Pride. Brazilian star Marta was sent off with a straight red card in the sixth minute of second half stoppage time for contact to the face of Dash forward Rachel Daly.
Sermanni called the match frustrating.
“We talk about being aggressive,” Sermanni said, adding by that, he means aggressive in dictating the team’s tempo and speed of play.
The Dash opened the scoring in the 17th minute after a lengthy weather delay. Midfielder Kealia Ohai – arguably Houston’s best player against the Pride the last time the two teams met – intercepted an errant middle third pass from Pride midfielder Alanna Kennedy and played the ball forward for Daly.
Daly got in behind the Pride’s back line and put a shot past Ashlyn Harris to give the Dash an early advantage. She got her second goal in the 50th minute, smashing home a rebound after a poor punch from Harris.
Play was halted in the 13th minute due to lightning in the area and didn’t resume for nearly two hours. Despite the delay, the Pride nearly had a dream restart to the match, but Alex Morgan put a shot off the post in the 15th minute.
The Pride managed to cut into Houston’s lead in the 55th minute thanks to leading goal scorer Sydney Leroux. She headed home a ball from centerback Shelina Zadorsky to score her sixth of the season.
Down 2-1, Sermanni called two of his best attackers into action in the 70th minute. Rachel Hill and Chioma Ubogagu came on in place of defenders Carson Pickett and Poliana and the Pride desperately searched for an equalizer with a host of attacking players on the pitch.
They nearly got it in the 81st minute. Ubogagu sent a perfect cross to the back post for Leroux, who was able to get a powerful header on frame only to be denied by Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell. That was just one of several chances the Pride created in the second half.
Thembi Kgatlana put the match out of reach with a goal in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time, which put the Dash up 3-1. Houston was nearly up 3-1 already, but a goal from Daly was called back.
The Pride will play their third game in eight days and their second consecutive road match on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Utah Royals. Both of the Pride’s previous matches against the Royals this season ended in draws.
“What we have to do is reassess what we do with selection and tactics,” Sermanni said.
“A team of our experience and pedigree, we shouldn’t be seeing some of the things we’re seeing. It’s as simple as that.”