The Orlando Pride return from a bye week break to host the Houston Dash this weekend, looking to extend a home win streak.
After a slow start to the season, the Pride have enjoyed a recent run of success at Exploria Stadium. The team has won its past two home games, picking up a 1-0 victory over Sky Blue FC and a 4-3 victory over the Washington Spirit.
The Pride and Dash have met twice so far this season, once in May and once in June. Orlando lost the first match 1-0, with Kealia Ohai notching a goal in the first 10 minutes of play and the Dash riding the advantage to the final whistle.
The teams finished with a 2-2 draw during their second matchup. After an early goal from Joanna Boyles gave the Pride the lead, the Dash opened the second half with strikes from Sofia Huerta and Kristie Mewis to regain the lead. A final goal from Danica Evans leveled the score for the Pride.
For Orlando coach Marc Skinner, the key to Saturday’s rematch will be for his team to dominate the pace of the game within its opening minutes.
“I think we need to suffocate them,” Skinner said. “We know that they have some very, very good players so we need to suffocate those players. Then we need to put our stamp of how we’re going to play in the game straight away and make Houston come and play against us in our backyard.”
During the previous meetings, the Dash was played wide and attacked the Pride backline from a variety of angles. The return of defensive starters Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky from the World Cup will significantly alter the Orlando defensive look Houston faced earlier this season. The addition of defender Julie King — who signed with the team on Thursday and will be available to play against the Dash — will only bolster the defense further.
After playing three games during its opening week of the season, the Pride have had a 20-day break between their most recent game and Saturday’s matchup with the Dash. During the time off, Orlando held two-a-day practice sessions and rigorous training to rebuild physicality. The time off gave the Pride much-needed opportunities to improve and bond before entering the final portion of the season.
“It’s bizarre having a huge break when we have everyone back, but at the same time, we made the best of it,” defender Shelina Zadorsky said. “We’re really working on a lot in training — our shape and all of the details we’re trying to get right so we can come out firing this weekend.”
The return of World Cup players has altered the Pride from top to bottom. The team struggled to score at the start of the season, but it has averaged 2.5 goals per game since its stars began to return from the World Cup. Marta now leads the team with four goals, while Chioma Ubogagu follows closely with three.
For the Pride, who lead the league with the most goals allowed (31), Saturday’s match will be an important defensive test.
“It’s just staying disciplined for 90 minutes,” Zadorsky said. “We’ve come a long way in our shape and how we’re gelling as a team. If we can put away early goals and then just stay disciplined, I think we have so much potential.”