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Marta earns Orlando three points in Houston

Although Carli Lloyd made her 2017 NWSL debut, it was another international player who stole the spotlight in the Houston Dash’s (2-7-0, 6 points) 4-2 loss at home to the Orlando Pride (3-3-3, 12 points). Marta had a part in all four of the Pride’s goal, tallying two assists and scoring two goals, including the game winner, on the night.

Going into tonight’s match, almost all of the storylines centered on Houston. Besides Lloyd’s return to the league after a stint in the FA WSL, the other stories were the Dash’s goal-scoring drought and winless streak. Luckily for the Dash, one of those stories was put to bed tonight, but the loss ensures the second will thrive for at least another week.

Defense has been a struggle for the Dash this season, and almost every lineup has a different backline than the one before it. Head Coach Oscar Morales seemed to revert back to a backline from earlier in the season, moving Cari Roccaro back to center back and pairing her with South African international Janine Van Wyk, while starting Poliana returned to the XI at outside back. Unfortunately for the Dash, the changes to the defense were ineffective, and the Dash gave up four goals and three points in front of a home crowd.

In comparison, Tom Sermanni rolled out the same 4-2-3-1 formation and lineup that he used in the Pride’s 2-0 win over the Boston Breakers at home just before the FIFA break. Although that break was cruel to some NWSL teams, Orlando was not one of them, and their internationals came back healthy, fit, and energized. All four of the Pride’s goals—in fact, all six of the match’s goals—were scored by internationals.

As the goal line suggests, the Pride were the dominant team for much of the match, coming out of the gate hot at the opening whistle. However, Lloyd also hit the ground running, playing a number of balls into space for teammates Kealia Ohai and Rachel Daly in the opening 10 minutes of the match, only to have the plays called back by the offside flag each time.

Despite Lloyd’s best efforts, Orlando would strike first and strike hot. In the 16th minute, Ali Krieger received the ball and played it into Rachel Hill, making her second consecutive start for the Pride, who then found Marta in the middle of the field. Marta took a couple of touches before passing through a couple of Dash defenders to Camila, who took a touch to move around Amber Brooks before firing off a rocket from about 40 yards out, blasting the ball past Lydia Williams for the game’s opening goal.

Lloyd and Houston had the next scoring opportunity after Camila sent Daly tumbling to the pitch with a hard challenge. The foul resulted in a free kick within striking range, which Lloyd took, sending in a hard shot on goal with the set piece. However, Aubrey Bledsoe, once again starting in Ashlyn Harris’s absence, made the stop, and Houston was unable to put the deflection into the goal before it was cleared out of danger.

Moments later, Bledsoe was tested again, this time by Lloyd, who took a touch to settle a high-bouncing pass from Cari Roccaro before taking a shot from the left. Once again Bledsoe denied Lloyd, this time diving to her left to parry the shot away.

Bledsoe’s deflection rolled over to Steph Catley, who found Camila on Orlando’s left flank. After Camila was taken down, Marta gained possession and drove the ball the rest of the way down the field, cutting just enough to break free of Roccaro and get into just enough space to fire off a shot that sent Williams sprawling, but she was unable to stop the ball from going into the back corner of the net.

The Pride were enjoying a comfortable 2-0 lead at the half, and despite a sub in the 57th minute by the Dash to bring fellow Brazilian international Andressa on for Rachel Daly, the Pride would strike again almost immediately after Andressa took the field. The goal-scoring play started in the back with Bledsoe, whose kick was headed to Monica near the center line. Monica passed the ball off to Jasmyne Spencer, who used her speed to break off into space and towards goal. As the Houston defense began closing in on her, Spencer sent a perfectly-weighted pass up to Marta, who perfectly timed her run to stay onside before slipping behind the Dash defense. Marta had plenty of time and space to line up her shot, easily beating Williams to complete her brace.

Although Marta’s second goal of the night visibly took the wind out of Houston’s sails, they continued to try to get on the board and nearly did just after the hour mark. Lloyd switched the field with a cross to Ohai, who received it at the far corner of the box. Ohai settled and split a pair of defenders with a shot that sent Bledsoe flying arms outstretched, but Ohai’s shot was just wide of the near post.

The physicality of the game continued to increase as emotions ran high for the Dash, and in the 64th minute, Janine Beckie was shown a yellow card after a hard tackle on Rachel Hill. Beckie’s yellow card was followed by a yellow card being issued to Camila, who was cautioned for time wasting after she was caught trying to slow the game’s tempo down a little too much.

Orlando’s fourth and final goal of the night was scored in the 68th minute of the match, when Australian international Alanna Kennedy headed in a corner kick to further increase the Pride’s lead. The goal was Kennedy’s first for the season.

Although the Dash were down, they were not out. In the final minute of regulation, Houston finally got on the board off a set piece, their first goal since May 20. Andressa sent in a free kick from the left flank, and Poliana got her head on the ball to flick it past Bledsoe, who was tumbling to the pitch. The goal was Poliana’s third of the season.

Nichelle Prince would further reduce the Pride’s lead to two goals in stoppage time when she scored the first goal of her professional career. Andressa received the ball in traffic, but the Pride looked sluggish and slightly apathetic in the final minute of the match and she was able to play the ball into space right in front of the goal. Catley seemed to jog over to the ball, but Prince’s fresh legs propelled her forward and she beat Catley to it, one-touching the ball past Bledsoe and into the back of the net.

However, the goal would be too little too late, and the Dash would suffer their sixth loss in as many games. No doubt Morales will hope to continue tweaking his lineup and Lloyd will continue reacclimating to the heat of the South ahead of next week’s match, the second game in the Dash’s home-and-home series with the Pride. The two will face off again next Saturday, June 24 at Orlando City Stadium for the Week 10 Lifetime Game of the Week.

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