• Dan Berridge

Analysis: Houston Dash (h). Space Race fails to lift off as Pride battles to draw.

The improvement, generally speaking, under Becky Burleigh has been exponential. There was precious little evidence of that in this game, however. This was an uncharacteristically disjointed performance by the Orlando Pride. In the interest of full candour, this was the Pride's worst performance under Burleigh; their passing was off, their decision making questionable and their attacking threat was almost non-existent at times. All that being said, though, they still managed to escape with a draw. A draw that has them ideally placed 4th in the standings, with winnable games coming up.


Despite the disjointed nature of their performance, a draw was probably a fair result. The Dash created very little on the whole. Ashlyn Harris did have to make a few smart stops, but for all their bluster the Pride number 24 only made 3 saves. Her successor in the Orlando net, Erin McLeod made 0 following Harris' concussion substitution.


This was a game where both teams struggled to dominate the ball, Orlando had a 78.6% passing accuracy rate, whilst Houston made 73.7% of their passes stick (figure 1). It was just a frenetic game all round. Comparatively Orlando played 485 passes, whilst Houston played 380. There were 98 duels won (55 Orlando, 43 Houston) which sort of tells you what kind of game this was; it was a scrappy affair. It certainly won't live long in the memory. Much like the Jurassic World franchise, or the Star Wars Resistance TV show. It'd be rude not to make a Star Wars reference in a piece about #SpaceRace, right?


More turnovers than a burger joint


Yeah, I know the term is 'flipping burgers'. I'm just trying to entertain myself with dad joke humour. And who can blame me after sitting through this game? I'm also pretty upset that I forgot to Tweet 'Houston you have a problem', after the Taylor Kornieck goal. Anyway, there were more turnovers during this game than there has been on my 2008 Hyundai Getz. It was a truly bizarre performance from a team that has improved no end in recent weeks. But then, as I alluded to earlier, picking up points when you're playing badly is the mark of a good team. So I wouldn't be hitting the panic button right now.


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I'm not sure there were any particular tactical nuances behind this disjointed showing, aside from a lack of width (more on that later). The main issue was that too many players had an off day. Too many players were guilty of carelessly conceding possession; Erika Tymrak completed 55.6% of her 27 passes, Ali Riley 73.1% of her 55 passes and Meggie Dougherty-Howard completed 73.7% of 38 passes attempted. The numbers aren't horrific, but they're definitely lower than in recent weeks, and low enough to cause an issue in the midfield. If you look at the unsuccessful pass positioning matrix in figure 2, you'll see that a high number of turnovers occured in the midfield.

As I've said, I don't think there is any need to be concerned, it was just a bad day at the office. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the game was that Houston were just as bad in possession, and Orlando failed to capitalise. Orlando ultimately ended up having the Lions share of possession (56%-figure 1), however, if they'd've taken care of the ball better, Orlando could've completely dominated their opponents. And we'd probably be reflecting on a victory right now.

Figure 1 shows Orlando's (left) possession statistics.

Figure 2 shows Orlando's unsuccessful pass positioning matrix.


Taylor Kornieck


I admire that Becky Burleigh wants to mold her into a 6, and in a lot of ways she has all of the required attributes. We have to learn to use her aerial abilities more often, however. We know that Kornieck also sees herself as more of a deep lying midfielder, and her physical presence is certainly going to be useful in that regard. That being said, she poses one of the most unique goal threats in the entire NWSL. At 6"1 she is, by some distance, the tallest player in the league. I've no doubt she could get 5-10 goals, if used in the correct system for a full season, using her aerial abilities alone.

Indeed, her aerial threat was obvious on Sunday. She came close with a header from Ali Krieger's cross on 78 minutes. Jane Campbell, in the Houston goal, was equal to that particular effort. Although Campbell was unable to prevent Kornieck cashing in from the resultant corner. The first chance is interesting to me. If you look at the clip in figure 3, you'll see that Kornieck darts into the area well, and attacks the space. I think this is something Orlando could take advantage of in the future, particularly when the likes of Courtney Petersen are back to full fitness.

Figure 3 shows a clip of Taylor Kornieck's headed chance and subsequent goal.


A lack of width


In last week's win over Gotham FC, I praised the use of Phoebe McClernon in the right back slot. Which, in an away game, when you're up against a team that likes to dominate possession, is a shrewd tactic. When you're at home, however, and you're expected to be the protagonist... I'm not convinced. You lose width, which means the team has to play narrower and through the middle. This is especially true when you play a 4-3-3, as you're relying on overlapping full-backs to get forward.


I don't believe this helped in terms of Orlando's inability to hold onto the ball, and in fact things improved when Gunny Jónsdóttir moved into the right-back slot. Orlando only hit 11 open play crosses in the match, with 5 of those coming after the personnel change with around 20 minutes to go. With McClernon at full-back, you're not going to get those overlapping runs and crosses. McClernon hit 1 cross in the entire game, whereas (for context purposes only) in the recent defeat to Washington Petersen hit 5 on her own, and was subbed off after an hour. This isn't a bout of McClernon bashing, I'm a huge fan of hers, but she's a centre-back by trade. I feel with either Ali Krieger or Gunny Jónsdóttir in that slot, we might have had a bit more joy down the flanks.

Figure 4 shows Orlando's cross positioning matrix from the 70th minute onwards.

Top player


Gunny Jónsdóttir

The Icelandic midfielder had a solid game all round, on a day where nobody really performed exceptionally well. Jónsdóttir certainly put up some more than serviceable numbers; 87 touches, 3 tackles and a pass success rate of 78.7% from 63 attempts. She also gave the Pride a little more attacking impetus down the right flank, after she switched to right-back.


Player ratings


Starting XI


Harris -7- Typically solid performance. I certainly hope there are no ill effects from the head injury she suffered.


McClernon -6- Solid defensively but offered little going forward.

Krieger -7- Typically strong performance from her.

Turner -7- Ditto.

Riley -5- Not her best game, just an off day.


Dougherty-Howard -6- Struggled to have much of an impact on the game.

Jónsdóttir -7- Not very often robust is used as a superlative but it works here.

Marta -7- Just doing Marta things, but they didn't always click.


Leroux -6- Very quiet.

Tymrak -5- Not her best game.


Taylor -5- Hardly had a kick.


Substitutes


McLeod -6- Never really tested.

Kornieck -7- Brought on to impact the game and did just that.

Pressley -6- Pinged a few good looking balls late on.

Viggiano -6- Provided fresh legs late in the day.

Strom -6- Only came in in the dying embers of the game, so no time to have an impact.

*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com

Game clips courtesy of the CBS Sports Network

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