The Houston Dash traveled up to Portland Sunday to take on the fourth ranked Thorns. The game looked to have a record-breaking crowd and the game would be essential in Houston's quest to make it to the playoffs in their first season.
Things started a bit rocky for the Dash, who didn't seem to be able to keep possession in the midfield. In the 9th minute, Thorns forward Christine Sinclair had a run on goal, getting in the box and tried to make a shot on goal. However, Dash defender Whitney Engen came in and knocked the ball away. Sinclair went down and got up looking for a penalty, but the ref waved her on.
The two teams had a bit of back and forth with nothing exciting until the 18th minute. Dash forward Kealia Ohai, who used her speed to push up and serve a ball up front. But it was too much for fellow forward Nina Burger to get on the end of it.
After a short break for Burger, who was down with an injury, in the 29th minute, Alex Morgan worked through the space on the left wing and took a shot from an odd angle. Thankfully for the Dash, the ball knocked right into the side netting. But Morgan's run was just another example of where Houston were allowing Portland too much space through the midfield.
As the half wound down, there wasn't too much to report from either side. The Dash weren't able to hold good possession nor were their passes on point. Portland wasn't looking too spectacular either; while they enjoyed more of the possession, the Dash defense was able to break up the plays.
Things almost got very bad for the Dash in the 38th minute as it looked like a pass in from a Thorns player knocked Engen on the arm. Portland players cried for a handball, but the call was not given. Play continued and the Thorns earned a corner kick, but wasted the opportunity.
A minute later, Kealia Ohai sped up center field and took on three Thorns defenders. She took a shot, but the ball deflected and rolled out for a goal kick.
The Dash were awarded a corner in the 43rd minute. Stephanie Ochs had a fantastic ball in, but Portland keeper Nadine Angerer easily came off her line and caught the ball. She threw it up field and the Thorns began a great counter run. Sinclair broke free, but the ball got away from her and Dash keeper Erin McLeod easily scooped up the ball.
Something finally started to click for Houston in the dying minutes of the half. The defense was still holding strong and the team began to complete short, precise passes through the midfield, allowing them to push forward.
The Thorns were awarded a corner in the second minute of stoppage time and a great set up from Vero landed to Sinclair. Sinclair passed it to Alex Morgan, waiting right in front of goal. But she was unable to get a handle on the ball and her shot went right at keeper McLeod. That would end the half, with a score of 0-0.
The second 45 minutes began much how it ended, however the opening minutes would see a little more action from Thorns' forward Morgan. The U.S. International had two chances within the first five minutes of the second half. The pressure from Portland continued to climb as the half went on.
Finally, it would culminate in the 55th minute as a nice pass came in front of goal and land at the feet of Vero Boquete who smashed it into the back of the net. A second almost came for Portland two minutes later as Vero put in a fantastic pass to Shim on the left, who was completely open. Shim took the shot and McLeod hit it out of bounds.
All the creativity and finish the Thorns lacked in the first half, they were making up for in spades during the first 15 minutes of the second.
Substitute Tiffany McCarty almost had the equalizer for the Dash. She made a run in and got on the end of a great pass. She made a great shot that saw the ball go in the net, but the line ref called her off sides and the goal was disallowed.
Osi Ohale came up big on the defensive end for the Dash in the 83rd minute. Sinclair flicked a pass over to Alex Morgan, who made a strong hit. The ball bounced off a well placed Ohale and McLeod jumped onto the ball.
The Dash continued to hold on during the pressure from Portland. The five minutes of stoppage time for the game was quite tense as the Thorns continued to hold the majority of possession and Houston desperately tried to find the tying goal. In the end, however, the ladies couldn't find the net.
The loss marks the end of the hopes for the playoffs with Houston.
While the game was marked with some familiar problems for the Dash, there were again bright spots for the team. Things for them to build on as they look to next season. The team will have three more games to close out their first run in the NWSL and it will be an opportunity for them to continue to tweak and work on the small technical issues they face.
The team has the talent and the mentality to be at the top of the league. Though they were an extension team this year, it would be hard for anyone to say that they've played like one. Glaring issues are evident - mostly in keeping possession in the midfield and not allowing to open up space for the opposing team - however, the team continues to battle and push through the entire 90 minutes, despite the scoreline. That will be a great tool for them moving forward.
The Houston Dash will have yet another quick turn around, with their next match being Wednesday, Aug. 6 against Seattle Reign FC.
Houston Dash - McLeod; Romero, Ohale, Engen, Klingenberg; Edwards, Jackson (McFarlane 75'), Kyle; Ohai, Burger (Ochs 24', Henderson (McCarty 75').
Portland Thorns FC - Angerer, Moros, Marshall, Menges, Catley, Long, Brooks, Boquete, Shim (Huffman 81'), Sinclair, Morgan (McDonald 89').