Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Houston Dash: Final Score 1-0 as Pride Win But Fall Short of Playoffs

A late Marta penalty saw the Pride defeat the Houston Dash but miss the playoffs due to tiebreakers.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride (10-11-1, 31 points) ended their 2023 campaign with a 1-0 win over the Houston Dash (6-8-8, 26 points) at Exploria Stadium. Marta drew a late penalty and converted it in the 87th minute for the winner. However, results around the league saw the Pride come up just shy of qualifying for the playoffs for the second time in team history.

Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made one change from the team that lost 3-2 to Racing Louisville FC last weekend. Erika Tymrak entered the lineup for the first time since Aug. 9 and the first time in a league game since July 7, replacing Celia. Haley McCutcheon moved into the defensive midfield last weekend, but returned to her regular right back position tonight.

“You go into film and you see areas that you can exploit. I think Erika’s been buying her time and waiting for her opportunity,” Hines said about starting the veteran. “We felt this was the right time to put her in. Also, the leadership that she brings, the experience that she brings also, and we needed a calm head in those moments. So, yeah, I want to make sure that everyone feels like they’re part of it. And sometimes it may not always be a start, it might be a substitution or, you know, just waiting for the opportunity. And between myself and the staff, we felt Erika was the right person to put in and in this game.”

“That’s part of the game,” Tymrak said about making her first appearance since Aug. 9. “Like, sometimes you don’t play for a month and then you start a game. That’s happened in my career more times than I can remember. So I think that’s just being a pro. You have to stay ready.”

The back line in front of goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse was Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, and McCutcheon. Jordyn Listro and Kerry Abello were in the defensive midfield behind Tymrak, Marta, and Adriana, with Messiah Bright up top.

The Pride were the better team throughout most of the game. Houston had two golden opportunities late in the first half, but few other chances. The hosts were unable to convert most of their opportunities until the late penalty. Those misses will live in their memories during the postseason as they came up short of a playoff spot on goal difference.

The Pride were the aggressors early. In the fourth minute, Tymrak played Bright down the left. Katie Lind got a piece of the ball, sending it out of play. The ensuing corner kick by Marta found Rafaelle, but Maria Sanchez blocked it out for a second attempt. Houston was able to clear the second corner.

McCutcheon created an opportunity in the eighth minute when she sprinted down the right with the ball and sent a cross in before reaching the end line. The ball was aimed for Tymrak near the top of the six-yard box, but was just over her head.

Two minutes later, Marta almost created a moment of magic after a give-and-go with Bright. The Pride captain used quick footwork to beat Lind and Natalie Jacobs, keeping the ball glued to her feet. Unfortunately, the last touch got a little too far away and Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell collected it. Had Marta been able to get a shot off, it probably would’ve been the NWSL’s goal of the season.

In the 15th minute, Tymrak sent Bright behind the Dash defense. The forward’s touch was too strong, forcing her to attempt a cross instead of shooting. The cross was cleared, but only to Adriana at the top of the box. The Brazilian shot with her second touch, but sent the attempt over the target.

Houston got its first attacking opportunity in the 24th minute when Michelle Alozie won a corner kick. The set piece was to the near post and Sophie Schmidt was the first to it, but her header was wide.

Following a hydration break, the Dash created a chance in the 33rd minute when Schmidt sent a beautiful ball behind the back line for Nichelle Prince. The forward got behind Madril and shot, but sent the attempt straight to Moorhouse.

In the 34th minute, Adriana attempted a cross on the right, but it was blocked out of play by Sarah Puntigam. The ensuing corner kick by Marta found the head of Rafaelle, but the center back sent the attempt just over the crossbar.

On the other end, McCutcheon conceded a corner kick and the Dash looked to take advantage. The set piece resulted in multiple shots by the visitors, but the Pride defense stood strong, blocking them away.

Marta made a run through the midfield in the 38th minute and played it wide for Adriana on the right with space. The midfielder attempted a long-distance shot, but it was into the arms of Campbell, who easily collected it.

In the 41st minute, Marta carried the ball into the Houston third again, but this time took it herself. She took a shot from a tight angle that looked to be heading just inside the near post, but Campbell blocked it away. Her ensuing corner kick was headed out, ending up with Listro. The defensive midfielder shot from just outside of the box, sending it right to Campbell.

Houston nearly ended the first half by taking the lead. Four minutes into first-half stoppage time, Snachez sent a low pass across the top of the six-yard box that went behind Alozie. It reached Andressa, who flicked it with her heel past Madril and Moorhouse. The ball bounced off the inside of the left post and rolled across the goal line before Strom cleared it away.

That was the final touch of the half as the game went into the break scoreless. Houston had more first-half possession (55.1%-44.9%), but the Pride had more shots (10-8), shots on goal (3-2), corner kicks (4-3), and crosses (11-8). The Dash also had better passing accuracy (79.9%-77%) in the first 45 minutes.

The Pride got the first attempt of the second half in the 49th minute when McCutcheon found Bright in the Houston box. The striker redirected the ball towards goal with her first touch, but sent it wide.

They had another opportunity in the 52nd minute when Bright’s ball into the box was blocked out of play by Schmidt for a corner kick. Marta’s set piece was towards the top of the six-yard box, but too close to Campbell, who caught it.

With the Pride needing goals to keep their postseason chances alive, Hines made his first change of the game in the 55th minute. Forward Ally Watt came on for Tymrak.

The Pride continued to create chances in the 60th minute. First, Strom dribbled in from the left, shooting towards the near post. It went through Campbell’s hands and off the crossbar. Seconds later, Marta took a shot from the top of the box. The attempt was on target, but Campbell made a diving stop, pushing the ball wide.

Hines made two more changes in the 71st minute. Usual starters Julie Doyle and Mikayla Cluff came on for Bright and Listro.

A throw-in for Houston in the 73rd minute resulted in a chance for an opener by the visitors. Receiving the ball on the right, Caprice Dydasco played a short pass to Joelle Anderson, who came on for Prince in the 63rd minute. The substitute shot for the far post and didn’t miss by much, forcing Moorhouse to dive for it. Fortunately, the ball skipped wide.

Out of a hydration break in the 78th minute, Marta nearly connected with Doyle. The Brazilian lifted the ball into the box and the substitute dove for it. However, the ball was just beyond her reach, glancing off her head and wide of the far post.

Adriana felt she should’ve had a penalty in the 79th minute when Schmidt challenged for the ball in the box. The attacker went down, but referee Natalie Simon didn’t see a foul. Adriana appealed for a penalty, but the call was correct as Schmidt got the ball.

In the 84th minute, Doyle sent a long ball into the Houson box. Marta beat Lind to the ball and the defender pushed the attacker down from behind. Simon didn’t hesitate to point to the spot, awarding the Pride a late penalty.

After a brief VAR check, Marta stepped up to take the spot kick. Campbell guessed the correct way, but the shot was under her arm to give the Pride a late 1-0 lead.

“You need to feel the moment, you know? I’m trying to read what the goalkeeper think about and I’m trying to play a little bit with my eyes. Like to try to make sure she don’t take the ball,” Marta said about her penalty. “But it’s about the moment. And then I just, at the last second, I just decide to take her, I think it was her right side. And then it was a goal.”

Immediately following the goal and needing more to make the playoffs, Hines made two final attacking changes. Summer Yates and Mariana Larroquette came on for Abello and Madril.

In the 89th minute, Watt fouled Sanchez and was booked for the challenge. Sanchez’s free kick found the foot of Schmidt, who’s first touch was a redirect on goal. But it was to Moorhouse, who made the stop.

A minute into stoppage time, Adriana blocked a Diana Ordonez cross out for a corner kick. Sanchez’s cross to the near post connected with Schmidt, but the midfielder’s shot was wide.

Two minutes later, Doyle sent a cross into the box. Yates couldn’t handle the pass, but it went to Larroquette, who played it forward for Yates behind the Houston back line. The rookie shot, but sent the ball over the crossbar.

In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Doyle carried the ball inside and took the shot herself. Campbell got down to make the stop, but it went right to Adriana. The Brazilian chested the ball down and touched it to the side to create space, but the shot was into the arms of Campbell.

The final chance of the game for either team came in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Schmidt fouled Yates outside of the box, giving the Pride a dangerous set piece to the left of goal. Adriana sent it to Cluff at the back post. The midfielder’s head connected with the pass, but she couldn’t get enough of it, putting it wide.

Houston ended up with more possession (51.8%-48.2%), but the Pride had more shots (21-11), shots on target (8-2), corner kicks (6-5), and crosses (21-11). The Dash passed more accurately (75.7%-74.9%) and the Pride came away with a 1-0 win to end the season.

“It’s like, we win the game but we lose. So it’s difficult,” Hines said about the game. “I thought the game, we started a little bit slow and not as threatening as I would have liked us to be. But I get it, you know, there’s a lot at stake in this game and a lot of pressure. And I felt like in the second half we were more aggressive. The goal comes from a terrific ball from Julie, a great run from Marta, and she gets in behind the back line and gets brought down. And you think, you know, you’re 1-0 up and you’re looking towards next week. But, you know, it wasn’t meant to be and yeah, it’s a tough one.”

Despite the three points, the Pride fell just short of a playoff spot. OL Reign beat the Chicago Red Stars 3-0, NJ/NY Gotham FC drew the Kansas City Current 2-2, and Angel City FC stunned everyone with a 5-1 win over the Portland Thorns. As a result, the Pride finished tied on points with Angel City and Gotham for fifth, but fell on goal difference.

“I’ve played in leagues all around the world and you always have top teams and then kind of like this big gap and then lower teams. And I think what’s special about the NWSL is that there is no weak team,” Tymrak said about the number of teams fighting for playoff spots. “Every game you play is so hard. There’s no easy game. There’s no break game. But that’s why I think we’re the best league in the world is you have that competitiveness regardless.”

“I’m so proud of this team because from beginning everybody put us in the last. You know, like when you see the list, Orlando Pride was the last one,” Marta said about overcoming preseason expectations. “And look now, so it was too close. And I hope we can, of course we’re going to be sad, but learn about this today and don’t make this happen again next year. Because we’re going to come back strong.”

While the team fell short of the postseason, they have plenty to look forward to in 2024. The hiring of Hines as head coach appears to have been the right decision as they finished in their second-highest position in team history. Additionally, Marta indicated after the game that she’ll be back to captain the team next year, the last of her two-year deal.

It will be a difficult off-season for the Pride as they attempt to reconcile the missed opportunities that could’ve seen them continue their season. However, there’s plenty of optimism going forward with a young squad that’s proven it can compete in this league.


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