HOUSTON — In a battle in which both sides desperately needed points to make any sort of playoff push in the last quarter of the NWSL season, it was the Utah Royals who prevailed, scoring twice in the second half for a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dash.
But the match on the pitch wasn’t the only storyline. It also marks the first appearance of Christen Press. The United States women’s national team player was traded to the Dash for Carli Lloyd, among other players, before the season started, but she had no interest in joining the team.
Press ended up returning to Sweden — where she started her career — to play for Göteborg for a couple months before joining Utah on a three-team deal that included Houston, Chicago, and Utah.
That Press didn’t want to don the Dash kit was not lost on the announced 3,907 in attendance. Every time Press touched the ball, the Dash faithful booed. It started off soft but got louder with each touch.
The Dash (6-8-5, 23 pts) gave the fans something to cheer about in the 19th minute when they came close to breaking the game open.
Dash forward Nichelle Prince went on a long run on the right wing. She got in the box and got by one defender before crossing back to Dash forward Rachel Daly. Daly failed to settled the ball fast enough to take a shot but was able to lay it off for Dash midfielder Sofia Huerta, but her shot was wide of the goal.
Huerta, however, would atone for her miss.
In the 41st minute, Huerta swung in a free kick from about 40 yards out. Dash forward Veronica Latsko out jumped a Royals defender to head the ball into the back of the net. The goal is Latsko’s third of the season. Huerta picks up her third assist with the Dash and fifth overall in the NWSL season.
“Pretty much it was all Sofia [Huerta]. She’s incredible and an amazing player who can target any player with an amazing ball,” Latsko said. “And I saw the perfect ball coming in and I was like, “please oh my goodness just go into the back of the net,’ and it did. So really didn’t have to do much, just head it.”
The goal is also the first time Houston scores against the Royals this season after failing to do so in their previous two meetings. It also extends the Dash scoring streak of ten consecutive games.
Huerta had a chance to nab a goal of her own in the 65th minute, but her close-range shot was saved by Royals ‘keeper Nicole Barnhart.
Despite the booing, Press remained focused and further aggravated Dash fans by scoring the tying goal for the Royals (6-6-7, 25 pts) in the 77th minute.
Dash ‘keeper Jane Campbell received the ball and played it to centerback Amber Brooks, but the defender had turned around before the pass. The ball ricochet off Brooks and Press was there to pick up the loose ball in the box and send it to the back of the net to level the game.
“It was a very fortunate series of events for me,” Press said. “Just trying to stay plugged in defensively and the ball ended up right where I needed it. Right where the team needed it honestly. And it was an important goal and very unusual.”
After the tying goal, the momentum the Dash were carrying with their 1-0 lead started to shift towards the Royals. It’s something Press felt as well.
“To be perfectly frank we didn’t create a lot of shots on goal although I felt like we had the run of play the entire game we were not dangerous,” Press said.
She added that she’s sure most of the Royals shots came after her goal.
“The game just opened up and we were just actually able to not just possessive the midfield and just get in behind their defense and create chances,” Press said.
The Royals created another chance in the 83rd minute when Erika Tymrak sent an overhead pass to Katie Stengel in the box. Campbell got off her line to meet Stengel but got caught too far out and the forward chipped the ball over her for the game-winner.
The Dash would push for the tying goal but to no avail. In the end, Kealia Ohai puts the onus of the loss on Dash mistakes.
“The two goals, both were mistakes on us,” Ohai said. “Two moments were we turned off and they scored and honestly it’s pretty upsetting because I think we should have got three points or at least one point out of that [game].”
And despite the booing Press received, she did talk with fans after the game and gave away her shoes to an adoring fan holding a Press sign.
— #SoccerMatters (@soccermattersGD) August 6, 2018
“The fans were very kind after the game,” Press said. “I don’t know why honestly but I think there were still a few fans. I saw some fans with Christen jerseys so that was nice.”
And does Press have any words for the fans she may have disappointed by not playing for the Houston Dash this season?
“I’m very sorry to all the fans that I disappointed but I’m happy that I was able to be at this game and play for them,” Press said.
The Dash now turned their attention to the New Jersey Sky Blue. With five games remaining on the season, the Dash aren’t out of the playoff race just yet.