The match that almost didn't happen for the Houston Dash against Sky Blue FC finally took place Wednesday evening in New Jersey. This would be the closing match of the 2014 season for the Dash, their first in NWSL. In a 7-game losing streak, this rescheduled match would provide a needed opportunity for Houston to end their season on a good note. And the players seemed keen to do just that.
Minutes into the match, Dash forward Nina Burger got the first shot off of the game. But it would fly wide of goal. A few moments later, Sky Blue would counter with a better chance. But the ball would be knocked out of danger. Sky Blue seemed to settle a bit quicker and in the 5th minute, Schmidt put in a great pass to a streaking Hayes on the far wing. Hayes put it in the middle for Ocampo, put the Sky Blue player couldn't get a handle on it and Houston cleared it out.
Ohai would get down along the right and try a tight pass in the 8th minute from the end line. However, Sky Blue keeper Loyden came off her line and snatched it comfortably out of the air. But they were not to be deterred. In the 11th minute, Ohai again attempted to get the ball in a good spot for the Dash. But Sky Blue's defense broke up the play.
Sky Blue answered with their own push in the 13th minute. Schmidt played a ball into O'Hara on the left side. O'Hara put in a long ball that looked to be on goal, but Dash keeper Henninger plucked it from the air. Henninger came up big again for Houston in the 17th minute. Schmidt had a fantastic pass into O'Hara in the middle. O'Hara's hit was strong and Henninger went to ground to get it out for a corner.
The push continued a minute later. Ocampo got on the end of a long pass right in front of goal that Henninger was able to keep out, but Cutshall was right behind her teammate, and hit the rebound right in the net behind Henninger. Sky Blue was taking advantage of the Dash being caught off guard in the back with long passes and forwards getting in behind to make shots.
Things settled a bit in the match after that. Dash forward Tiffany McCarty tried a few times to weave her way toward the box around the 30 minute mark. Offensively, Houston continued to built bit by bit to attempt to get level on the scoreboard. But the Sky Blue defense was able to continue to poke the ball away.
In the 34th minute, forward Nina Burger tried another shot outside the box. It was a hard hit, but Loyden was able to bat it out. McCarty come up for the rebound, but was unable to capitalize.
The half was dying down when Houston lost the momentum and the game swung again to Sky Blue. Once Sky Blue got that possession back, they hit against the Dash and they did so frequently and hard.
In the 41st minute, a few one-touch passes through the middle would find Ocampo putting in a great little ball to Hayes, who was right in front of goal. Henninger came up big though, knocking the ball out. One minute later, Sky Blue would pick the ball out again, with a long ball up to Schmidt, would would chest it down to Levin. Levin made a rocket shot, but Henninger was able to hit it out of play.
Kealia Ohai almost made a fantastic goal for the Dash in the 44th minute. She had a nice touch to McFarlane, who cut up the right wing and passed it back to Ohai. Ohai hit it hard, and Loyden wouldn't have had a chance to save it. Unfortunately, the shot bounced hard off the post and stayed out of goal.
Henninger was forced to make another crazy save in stoppage time as Goodson lobbed a long ball from a free kick. Henninger had to reach up and tip it out over the goal. That would be the last big play of the first half, leaving the score still 1-0 to Sky Blue.
In the second half, in the 55th minute, keeper substitute McLeod was tested when Levin made two touches and fired a hard ball at goal. McLeod went up and luckily tipped it out. The ball had come to Levin off a pass from Schmidt, which was continuing to show how the Sky Blue offensive was able to weave and work around the Houston defense.
The game hit a lull of back and forth until the 70th minute, when Sky Blue came flying up the middle with quick one-touch passing between its players. Then, around the 18-yard box, Nick lined up and took a shot, which literally pinged off the far post.Those quick touches and passing were definitely wearing heavy on the Dash defense, but the players held strong, continuing to break down the plays.
In the 73rd minute, Nick took Ohai down hard, earning the Dash a nice free kick opportunity. Ohai took the kick, which curled over the wall. Whitney Engen was rushing forward to get on the end of it, but Loyden came out of the box at the right time and dove on the ball.
After a few free kicks from Sky Blue that amounted to nothing, Houston had a nice run in the 77th minute. Souza played in a long ball to Ohai, who fought off three defenders but wasn't able to line up. She passed it back to Souza, who would take a volley shot. However, the ball skipped a bit and landed right in the arms of Loyden.
Quick-touch passing through the midfield from Sky Blue would dominate the next 15 minutes of the match. Houston would defend well, though with shaky clearances, and could never really get a good possession on the ball. Ochs would get a chance on goal just into stoppage time, making a volley shot from far out. It would go just over goal though.
The match would end on a corner from Sky Blue, which would be cleared to midfield, then pinged back and forth before the final whistle. The final score; 1-0 Sky Blue.
The Houston Dash played pretty much how they have been playing this season; with little offensive creativity, a stale midfield and a decent, yet shaky defensive line. Head Coach Randy Waldrum has stated several times that this inaugural year was a lot about building the culture for women's soccer in Houston, but it can also be said that it was a test to see if the team - which is connected with the Houston Dynamo - could come out and be more than an expansion team.
Looking at the table, with Houston finishing in the bottom, it would seem that they did play just like an expansion team. However, the numbers are deceiving. Playing with most of their top defensive players missing, as well as working to find a right combination in the offense, it could be said that Houston could have done a lot worse in the 2014 season.
Even this match against Sky Blue shows the potential that lies in the Houston Dash team. With more time together and more work for players to get out obvious kinks, the Dash could come out in the 2015 season quite the contender. Only time will tell.
Houston Dash - Henninger (46' McLeod), Romero, Engen, Toulouse (60' Souza), Diggs, Kyle, McFarlane, Ohai, McCarty, Burger (57' Henderson), Ochs
Sky Blue FC - Loyden, Goodson, Foord, Cutshall, Levin, Nick, O'Hara (27' Johnson), Freels, Schmidt, Ocampo (48' Filingo), Hayes (84' Thompson).