Well, it was always going to happen sometime. Orlando were going to lose at some point. As disappointing as it is to lose our unbeaten start, there are plenty of positives to take. The Pride now have an opportunity, and that's the way they ought to see it, to demonstrate their bouncebackability and mental resolve. Houston are no mugs; a lot of teams will head to BBVA Stadium and leave with their tails between their legs this season. As such, there's no need to panic, even though the Pride were far from being at their best. Falling behind to 2 first-half goals, Marc Skinner's team gave themselves something of a mountain to climb. A well-taken Marta corner was headed home by Gunny Jónsdóttir, to give the visitors a glimmer of hope. Just call her Obi-Wan Kenobi, as she was our only hope. Well, not only. There were positives to takeaway from this game, but not in abundance. I'm just a 'glass half full' kinda guy, at the moment. There was to be no miracle comeback though. The Pride maintain top spot, for the time being.
The Pride now have a week's rest before their next game; something of a grudge match against North Carolina Courage at Exploria Stadium. The Courage have picked up since the Pride went to their place, and played no football whatsoever. Apparently. Are you still sour about that, Paul Riley? Yeah? Good.
The Courage, at time of writing, sit second in the NWSL standings, 2 points back from the Pride. Depending on the result of this weekend's Portland Thorns game, in Louisville, next weekend's Pride-Courage match-up could be a winner takes top spot affair (this report was written prior to the Thorns game). Which is a mouth watering prospect. Anyway, whilst there were plenty of positives, there were also a few negatives. Negatives which ultimately cost Orlando the game. So, without further ado, let's look at what went wrong in Texas on Saturday evening...
Uncharacteristically sloppy defending from the Pride
The first goal is a bit of a disaster all round. The Pride were atypically slow to close down the initial ball into the box, then Ali Krieger allows María Sánchez to get goalside (figure 1). The Mexican is then able to direct an effort at goal, that Harris does well to parry. However, Krieger doesn't react to the loose ball at all, and Sánchez jumps back to her feet and applies an easy finish. Houston had 8 shots overall, with 5 on target and an overall XG of 0.89 coming into this game. So, it's not like Orlando were ever going to be peppered with shots; and that's exactly how it worked out. A costly error gave Houston the impetus, and they made Orlando pay double the premium shortly after... And that's really all James Clarkson's side needed.
Figure 1 is a game still from just before the opening goal.
The second goal is even more disastrous. There's not enough pressure put on the ball into the area, Phoebe McClernon pushes up and the two Ali's are just stood, statuesque as no less than 3 Houston players move into a goal-scoring position (figure 2). Harris has no choice but to make a play for the ball, and she's beaten all ends up. She never stood a chance really. To say the defending, in this instance, was lackadaisical would be doing the team a kindness. That being said, it's very out of character for this team. It was just a bad day at the office defensively. Unfortunately, from then on in, the Pride then had a mountain to climb as a result.
Figure 2 is a game still from just before the second goal.
Off-key performance from Chelsee Washington and the team's inability to get the ball to Alex Morgan
I'm a big fan of Chelsee Washington, I think she's a dynamic player with a lot to offer. That being said, there's no getting away from it, though... She was poor in this game. Which, I'm assuming, is why she was hauled off at the half way point. With only 11 touches of the ball, and 6 passes... In midfield... That's just not good enough. It's not like she did much off the ball either, with only 2 recoveries and 1 failed tackle (figure 3). Her performance then created a situation whereby Gunny Jónsdóttir and Meggie Dougherty-Howard, had to overcompensate for her.
This, effectively, meant Orlando were a woman short in midfield. Which in turn allowed Houston to dominate the midfield area (figure 4). With Orlando's inability to get control of the midfield, and without Taylor Kornieck available for the out ball from the full-backs, Orlando struggled to mount any real, sustainable attacks. This then lead to precious little service for Alex Morgan. All of Orlando's play was then coming through Marta and Sydney Leroux, which Houston comfortably dealt with by pushing up on them, and denying them any space. Obviously it's not all Washington's fault, but it's easy to see how one cog piece not performing its task shuts the whole damn clock down.
Figure 3 shows Chelsee Washington's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Figure 4 shows the pass positioning matrix for Houston's midfield trio of Kristie Mewis, María Sánchez and Sophie Schmidt.
The Icelandic international was comfortably the Pride's best player on the night, and was desperately unlucky to be on the losing side. The former Utah Royals player made 12 recoveries, and had an overall pass completion rate of 84.2% from 38 passes. With 62 touches, she was easily Orlando's most involved midfielder. The Gardabaer, Iceland native is fast establishing herself as a key member of this squad. Her determination and leadership was evident throughout the match. She's always communicating with her teammates, and leads by example with her tenacious play. She's what we term in England, as a 'no nonsense midfielder'. There's no frills, just tough tackling and effective distribution. Took her goal really well, attacking the ball like a freight train, before glancing the header past Jane Campbell.
Harris -6- Badly let down by Krieger for the first goal, and was all at sea for the second. Just an off night.
Riley -7- Solid enough display, could've gotten closer to the cross for the first goal though.
McClernon -6- Didn't do too much wrong, tried to get attacks started from the back.
Krieger -5- Poor positioning and response for the first goal.
Petersen -7- Attacked well, and was typically industrious. Caught napping for the second goal.
Jónsdóttir -8- Unlucky to be on the losing side, played well.
Washington -5- Very poor. 11 touches for a midfielder says it all. She's better than this, though.
Dougherty-Howard -7- Always trying to make things happen.
Marta -7- Provided a precision delivery for the goal, and generally linked play well.
Leroux -7- Industrious up and down the left, as usual. Didn't get much service though.
Morgan -6- Hardly involved at all, but had barely any service. Difficult scoring chance late-on.
Haran -6- Came in too late to make any real difference.
Pressley -6- Added a bit more of a physical presence, I suspect she was brought in, in the hope we get a late set piece in a good area.
Tymrak -6- Came in too late to impact the game.
Thomas -6- Full of running, but no service.