Analysis: Houston Dash (a). Houston, We Have A Problem.
Spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 3 ahead. Not a disclaimer you expect to see at the forefront of a soccer match analysis, huh?
You know in episode 3 of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, when Ben asks Darth Vader 'what have you become?', and the Dark Lord of the Sith just says 'I am what you made me'? That resonated with me today. The Orlando Pride made me very despondent this morning when I went over the game footage. I'm pretty sure burning on the side of a Mustafarian river would be less painful than watching the Pride's latest defeat. The Orlando Pride made me very sad indeed.
Here's the thing; I still believe, steadfastly, in what the club are trying to do. It's not going to be an overnight thing. That being said, there are some things that simply cannot persist. The, frankly, embarrassing defensive mistakes have to stop.
There was certainly an element of good fortune about Houston's 5 goal tally... From 6 shots on target, no less. Nichelle Prince scored a hat trick, and only had an XG of 0.06 according to The Athletic. Which, sort of says it all really. Rachel Daly had an XG of 0.41. That doesn't excuse the inexcusable, however.
To be honest, the defending was a shambles for pretty much the entirety of the game. The Dash did exactly what I predicted they would do; they sat off and then hit the Pride in transition. Whenever they went forward, the Pride just seemed to fold like a pack of cards. I'm not going to go through what's wrong with each goal, because we'll be here all week to be honest. So I'm just going to focus on a few of the things that particularly irked me with the second and third goals, the goals which kill this game as a contest.
First up, it's the 'defending' for Rachel Daly's goal. I've seen a few comments remarking on Erin McLeod's positioning being somewhat suspect. That's not a view I necessarily prescribe to. My main issue is the lack of awareness of Daly's movement from Kerry Abello and Toni Pressley, in addition to the lack of pressure on the initial ball in (figures 1 & 2). Neither Abello or Pressley are aware of where the England international is and neither one of them deals with the cross. Are they wanting to let the cross go? You never, ever do that in a central area. It's such a basic mistake to make. And in the NWSL those mistakes get punished.
Figure 1 is a clip of Rachel Daly's goal.
Figure 2 is a game still from just before the Daly goal.
The third goal, is just a bit of a joke to be honest. The Dash have absolutely acres of space to play a ball down the left wing. Nichelle Prince is able to just freely waltz her way into the area. There's no closing of the space, no tackle. Nothing. She gets a little lucky with the deflection but that's neither here nor there to be honest.
This has been an on and off issue for the Pride for a long time. There were far too many occasions when there was an absolute chasm between the midfield and the attack. The Pride midfielders need to do a better job of clogging the middle of the park and closing that gap, particularly from goal kicks or long balls out of the back (figure 3). What's the point in winning the flick on in midfield, if the opposition are just going to pick up the loose ball?
Their positioning was atrocious at times. You'd often see Vivianna Villacorta and Mikayla Cluff bombing forward, whilst Jordyn Listro would be sat in front of the back 4 before we even had control of the ball. Look at the example on figure 4, there is a huge gap between Listro and Cluff/Villacorta after a long pass out of the back. There are 4 Houston players occupying that gap. To leave such seismic gaps for a team that's as good in transition as Houston is just....well, it's stupid.
Figure 3 is a game still from the first half.
Figure 4 is a game still from the first half.
Playing out from the back
The Pride's commitment to playing out from the back has to be commended. That being said, it's important to be able to mix that up a bit. It was pretty obvious that Houston were pushing up on the Pride backline, and because the midfield were often nowhere to be seen, it was impossible to play through Houston's press (figure 5). Short or long. The home side won a ridiculous amount of turnovers in the Pride's half. The Pride need to learn to mix it up a little more and use their width. There's a very real danger of Orlando becoming predictable.
Figure 5 shows Houston's recovery and successful tackle positioning matrix, whole 90.
At times, to be honest, she looked to be the one most hurt by what was happening. You could even go as far too say she was the only one who seemed hurt by it. I know that's not the case, but fans could be forgiven for thinking it was. Leroux managed to carve out 7 shots with no service. She hit the post and forced Jane Campbell into a couple of smart stops. She completed 74% of her 31 passes and won 6/6 aerial duels. Leroux put in a real shift.
McLeod -6- Not her finest hour.
Abello -5- Looked lost.
Pressley -5- Couldn't handle Prince's pace.
Montefusco -5- No happy return to her former club.
Jónsdóttir -5- Not a right back, missed her in midfield.
Cluff -6- Overran.
Villacorta -5- Unable to impact the game.
Listro -6- Similarly to Cluff, was overrun.
Jenkins -5- Barely got a kick.
Pruitt -5- One person inhabitant of her own island.
Leroux -7- Seemed to be the only one capable of making something happen.
Petersen -7- Provided some decent service.
Doyle -6- Nothing to work off.
Strom -6- Why is she on the bench when you have a midfielder at RB?
James -6- Came on too late. Should start.
Roberts -6- Game was dead when she entered.
Orlando Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell: “This is a tough one to talk about because I thought we had good energy to start the game. It was a little bit methodical both ways, I think both teams were feeling each other out. When they scored, I don’t think our response was good enough. [We needed to] pick up the energy, pick up the level. Conceding multiple goals again in the first half puts you in a bind so we changed things up. I am always a coach that is going to go for it. I would rather lose 5-0 trying to get back and get some goals, than stay at 3-0 and stop trying. We changed formations, obviously we were pushing. I think we hit the post, had some chances, but nothing fell our way tonight. Everything they touched in the box was golden and it just feels pretty bad.”
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com, nwslsoccer.com and the Athletic.
Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.