PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Thanks to a late goal from Sofia Huerta, the Houston Dash picked up their first win of the season against Sky Blue FC, which now has two losses to start the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League season.
Huerta’s 83rd-minute effort came after teammate Rachel Daly took a shot of her own in the middle of the penalty area. Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan made a save on that attempt, one of more than 10 she kept out during the night, but the ball eventually fell to a nearby Huerta, whose shot hit defender Estelle Johnson before finding the back of the empty net.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 20, 2019
“I’m pretty frustrated,” Sheridan said after the match, which saw her make six saves. “I think that we deserve to get a result.”
The Dash dominated the match from start to finish, testing Sheridan frequently. As early as the 11th minute, the goalkeeper was called upon, dealing nicely with an attempt from Nichelle Prince. Though the Dash ended the first half with seven shots and six on target, the hosts managed some of their own chances further up the pitch. Frequently on a counterattack, Sky Blue managed some meaningful possession and three shots, from which head coach Denise Reddy found some positives.
“I think we, even without the ball, controlled the match today,” Reddy said. “The first half, they had the wind. We went on a low press.”
One of those shots that Sky Blue picked up came through a penalty, awarded in the 26th minute. The referee gave the penalty after Dash captain Amber Brooks fouled midfielder Carli Lloyd in the box. Lloyd lined up to take the penalty, but her shot eventually hit the post and went out for a goal kick.
JUUUUUST a bit outside. PK missed for @SkyBlueFC.
— NWSL (@NWSL) April 20, 2019
“I thought maybe I make the PK, maybe the game starts off a little bit differently,” Lloyd said. “I’ve been hitting them every day in practice, top corner, and it’s just one of those things where it doesn’t go in. Unfortunate.”
The second half was much like the first. The Dash kept the Sky Blue defense busy. The visitors were close to an opening goal in the 58th minute after multiple attempts were blocked from the goal in a crowded penalty area. In the final 20 minutes, the two sides traded opportunities, forcing both defenses to be active. The match looked like it was set for a goalkeeper masterclass to be reflected in the scoreline, but the late goal ended such an opportunity.
Still Sky Blue took plenty of positives from the match. Reddy, Lloyd, and Sheridan all admitted the match marked a vast difference from last week’s 2-0 loss at the Washington Spirit, where the team could hardly find a rhythm. Sheridan shared that it was partly the result of a players’ meeting in between the first and second matches of the season.
“Obviously, we knew personally and individually that it wasn’t good enough,” Sheridan said. “For us to come back together and say to each other’s faces that it wasn’t good enough and it’s time for us to take that step forward … I think when you do that, as a group of players who respects the next person beside you, it means a huge thing to you.”
As is natural in the early stages of a season, Reddy feels the team still has room for improvement. While the defensive performance, particularly on Sheridan’s part, stood out, the team has yet to score a goal this season.
“We got to be super soul crushing aggressive to finish games,” Reddy said. “I think we need to get that edge, that little edge, everywhere but especially when we’re in the attack.” The head coach does think, though, that the team does have that in them, along with a strength and a desire to work hard, and believes it should serve them well as the season progresses.
In general, there was enough optimism for a group that did make noticeable strides not just from a rough first match, but from a far from ideal 2018 season.
“This was definitely a another good step and next week, we got another step to make as well against Portland [Thorns],” Lloyd said. “I think overall, we did some good things, so I think everybody should hold their head high and just [go] on to the next one.”
The Dash sit on four points and are undefeated to start the season. Sky Blue have zero points and have yet to score two matches into the season. They will get another chance next week, when the Portland Thorns come to New Jersey.