The Houston Dash traveled to New York this week to take on Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd's Western New York Flash. The match would be the first time the two teams would face each other in the 2014 season. Looking at the starting lineups, it would definitely be a battle of offense between the two teams. Fortunately for Houston, they would come out on top of that battle, nabbing a 2-1 victory.
Immediately it became evident that New York was going to be rough on the Dash defense. Abby Wambach was open frequently within the opening minutes, causing the defense to scramble to strip the ball from her. A free kick in the third minute tested substitute keeper Bianca Henninger as she made a solid block. A minute and a half later, Houston forward Nina Burger had her first attempt on goal, seeing the shot go just wide. It has been hard to watch her shots go just wide for most of this season.
After about 10 minutes, both teams started to settle into the match. Both teams went back and forth with some nice tries on goal, but nothing to test any of the two keepers too much. Kealia Ohai put a little fire in the Dash offense in the 13th minute. After a goal kick from Henninger landed at her feet, Ohai fought around two Flash defenders and made a hard shot from outside the 18 yard box. Flash keeper Lydia Williams was right in the path of the ball and easily caught the shot.
The Flash got a handle on the ball about half way through the first half and in a cluster of players, forward Samantha Kerr was able to pass back to Abby Wambach. Wambach and Dash defender Marissa Diggs collided as Wambach made the shot. Henninger dove toward the corner and blocked the ball. The collision had Wambach down for a few moments, but she was back on her feet and played on. She would last for about 5 minutes before signaling for a change.
It seemed like the loss of the leading-scorer for the Flash gave Houston a little confidence boost as they began to push a bit harder against the Flash defense. But New York wasn't put out about losing Wambach. In the 30th minute, Flash midfielder Carli Lloyd came up and stripped the ball from Dash defender Stephanie Ochs and made a whistling pass toward Kerr who was lurking at the back left post. Fortunately for Houston, Kerr just wasn't quick enough and the ball went out of bounds.
Five minutes later, Lloyd would lead another charge on the Dash goal, which would end in a New York corner. The ball came down in a clustered box, but Dash defender Diggs was able to easily clear it out of danger. As the half would down the Flash would press in the Houston half time and time again, but the defense held strong, led mostly by central defender Osinachi Ohale and midfielder Ella Masar. While Ohale stayed glued to the speedy Kerr, Masar kept on Lloyd like a shadow.
But the pressure from the Flash would finally break through in the 44th minute when Adriana made a sprint down the left side and curved a nice pass into the center of the field. McCall Zerboni was waiting and with one touch, sent a rocket toward Henninger. The Dash keeper had no chance; the ball slammed into the back of the net. 1-0 New York.
So the Dash were down 1-0 at the halftime mark. It was obvious that Houston would need to press hard and get on the scoreboard. They would need to find a way to get Burger, Ohai or Masar through the Flash defense. But they would also need to keep their defense as strong as possible, keeping Lloyd in check.
In the 48th minute, the Flash would test how strong the Dash were right out the gate. Adriana made a nice pass into New York forward Kerr, who took the shot. Henninger made a diving save with Ohale coming to clean up the ball and send it out, clearing out the danger.
But three minutes later, Romero would send in a long throw in, which would fall to the feet of Ohai. The rookie Dash forward would settle it, beat her defender, turn and send it into the back of the net. A great finish for Ohai and bringing the Dash back level with New York.
After that, the confidence levels sky-rocketed for the Dash. They kept strong pressure in the midfield and in New York's half of the pitch. In the 64th minute, they almost came away with a second goal as Becky Edwards made a diving header in the box. However, Williams would get it blocked.
The Flash weren't giving up, by any means. However, with Masar making 80 yards dashes back to help the defense, Romero and Ohale killing plays, the Dash defense held strong and helped start many counters for Houston. One of those pressure plays in the 72nd minute would lead to a corner kick for Houston. Ochs would lob it in and Nina Burger, waiting on the corner, would send it in for a Houston goal and the lead.
New York would bring on another forward, Jasmyne Spencer, in the 76 minute, causing the Dash to mix up their formation. With the four forwards, the Flash looked to put more frustration on the Houston back line. However, it was quite the opposite. With Ohai and McCarty in the front for Houston, it was the Dash continuing to make strong counters and runs towards Williams.
Defense became a team effort in the dying minutes of the game for Houston. New York kept most of the possession, coming into the Dash half to push again and again, trying to find the equalizer. In the first minute of stoppage time, Carli Lloyd made a hard strike on goal, causing Henninger to come off her line to block it. A rebound was hit back toward the unguarded goal and Romero made a dive and save Houston from giving up the tying goal.
The Flash got desperate in stoppage time, making wild chances on goal, but Houston held strong. When the final whistle blew, the Dash walked away with their second win of the season, handing New York their first loss at home.
This game will hopefully turn into a great confidence booster for Houston. Ohale was the shining star of the match. Her work in central defense is why the Dash held on so strongly throughout so many attacks from the New York offense. It must also be said that Masar and Becky Edwards duty on covering Carli Lloyd was essential to the Houston win. Shutting down the USWNT international gave the Dash the chance to keep strong possession in the midfield and push the ball forward.
Other notables for Houston this game include Diggs in the back; she stepped up and helped defend many shots, striking down several attempts from Wambach, Kerr and others. As always, Romero was a key figure not only in defense, but in her fantastic long throw ins, which helped the Houston offensive push. Up top, Ohai and Tiffany McCarty kept strong pressure against the New York defense and had Williams scrambling a bit on her line.
The Dash's next game will be away at Sky Blue FC June 8 at 5 p.m. CT.
Houston Dash - Henninger, Romero, Ohale, Diggs, Ochs, Kyle, Masar, Edwards, McCarty (McFarlane 94'), Burger (Souza 79'), Ohai.
Western New York Flash - Williams, Reynolds, Taylor, Barczuk (Spencer 76'), Edmonds, Zerboni (Bermudez 66'), Lloyd, Salem, Kerr, Wambach (Losada 24'), Adriana.