For their final home game of their inaugural season, the Houston Dash looked to stop the playoff hopes of Sky Blue FC Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. Though the last meeting of the two teams back in June would end in a massive 3-0 win for the Dash, this game would go quite the opposite way for Houston.
The game had a very quick pace right from the get go. Sky Blue pushed quickly within the first seconds of kick of and when Dash defender Marissa Diggs cleared the play, Dash had their own run into the Sky Blue half. This all within the first two minutes. Sky Blue's Maya Hayes would make a scary move in the fourth minute, working at the right post of the Dash goal. But keeper Erin McLeod would get a hand on it, knocking it out. The following corner would provide nothing for the visiting team.
As the opening minutes of the game continued, there seemed to be a sense of disorganization with Dash. They were unable to get settled enough to make decent passes and runs. There were also sketchy clearances from the defense. However, Sky Blue struggled to get a handle on the pace of the game as well and that worked into Houston's favor.
In the 13th minute, Houston were awarded a free kick in a dangerous spot. Becky Edwards stepped up to take the shot and she was able to curl the ball right on a path into goal. However, the ball when straight at Sky Blue keeper Jill Loyden, who caught it with little trouble.
Sky Blue began to give up a few turn overs in favor for Houston. One in 16th minute was picked up by Dash forward Kealia Ohai, who went one on one with her defender. She made it around and took a tight shot from the left post. The ball would skirt skirted past the front of goal.
As half went on, Dash was able to break up some of the quick offensive plays from Sky Blue, but unable to turn it and use it to their advantage. Finally about in 20th minute, Houston was able to use some turn overs to make some runs on goal and pick up their pressure. But they just couldn't find the net.
Sky Blue took possession back around the 25 minute mark, making several runs toward Houston's back line. Osi Ohale had to step up a few times to break up attaching plays. The pressure continued up until the 30 minute water break. After the players took to the pitch again, Ford made a run up the right wing, but Stephanie Ochs nicked the ball away and played it up to a waiting Kealia Ohai. Ohai went one on one with Sky Blue's Christie Rampone before she took a shot. The ball however skipped right into the waiting hands of Loyden.
The back and forth seemed a bit even between both teams. However, Sky Blue looked far more dangerous than Houston. In the 39th minute, Hayes would win the ball and streak up on the right before playing in a great cross in front of the Dash Goal. Sky Blue forward Nadim was waiting and made the great timed kick to get the goal. Sky Blue were up 1-0.
In the 42nd minute, Nina Burger won a corner for the Dash. Ochs curled it in and the ball bounced around a bit before it landed to Marissa Diggs. Diggs fought off her defender and made a curling shot that just missed the far post.
Melissa Henderson almost had the equalizer for the Dash in the 44th minute. Ohai put in a great ball from distance and Henderson was able to head it into the net. However, she was called off sides and the goal was disallowed.
In the dying seconds of the half, Ohai tried her hand again with a shot on the left side. She took on Rampone one-on-one and let off a shot that Loyden almost didn't get a hold of. However the Sky Blue keeper was able to get a handle on it and the half would end 0-0.
The back and forth continued between both teams at the beginning of the second 45 minutes. Neither teams had anything amount to much until after the first five minutes. Ohai placed the ball across the front of goal in the 52nd minute, looking for anyone to get on the end of it. Becky Edwards was waiting at the back post but wasn't quite able to turn her body and get a hit on the ball.
McLeod had an amazing save in the 56 minute. Sky Blue's Nadim got behind the Dash defense and McLeod came out of her goal, all the way out of the 20 yard box. She used her body to get the ball down and then delivered a pass over to Henderson. Sky Blue took it right back, but the Dash defense recovered and broke up the play.
Diggs tried her hand at getting the equalizer. In the 58th minute, Ochs sent in a long corner kick. The ball came to Diggs, who attempted a snap down header. Unfortunately the ball went to the side of the net.
As the half went on, the game started to get a little physical, with both teams making hard tackles. Becky Edwards was taken down hard in the Sky Blue end and moments later, McLeod would go up against Nadim where the Sky Blue forward would end up on the ground. In the 65th minute, McLeod herself would get in a tangle with Ford and was on the ground a for a few scary seconds. However, she was able to shake it off.
Despite the physicality, Houston continued pressure against Sky Blue. That work almost paid off in the 72nd minute as Tiffany McCarty delivered the ball across the front of goal. There was a bit of a scramble and several Dash players made attempts to put the ball into the net, and Jordan Jackson had the best chance, but none were successful.
In the 73rd minute, Sky Blue were awarded a dangerous free kick, which was whipped in toward goal. Nadim again was on the end of it and headed it toward goal. McLeod got a hand on it, but it was still tipped over and end. Suddenly the Dash were looking at being down 2-0 with only about 15 minutes to go in the match.
Heat and fatigue was becoming a factor for the players in the closing minutes of the half. The Dash continued to apply as much pressure as they could, looking for goals to bring them back into the game. Ohai was the biggest factor in the Dash offensive push. In the 85th minute, she raced up field, fighting through several defenders and took a shot, but Loyden grabbed a hold of it.
The Dash's refusal to give up finally payed off in the 85th minute. Houston was awarded a corner and the ball landed in a sea of players. In the confusion, the ball was hit toward goal and Sky Blue keeper was able to just barely keep it out. However, forward Nina Burger was in the right place at the right time and headed it in, getting a goal back for Houston.
Sky Blue, however, put the final nail in the coffin in stoppage time. They were able to catch the Houston defense off guard and O'Hara slipped a nice ball into a running Nadim. Nadim took the shot as McLeod came out of her goal and the ball hit the back of the net, securing a 3-1 scoreline for the visitors and Nadim a hattrick for the night. It would be the fifth hattrick scored in the league's history.
That goal would be the last big play of the match. The most frustrating aspect of this match was Houston's inability to finish. Kealia Ohai was again the bright star in the offensive for Houston. She was the one player making chances over and over again up from for Houston. The best player on the night, however, was Stephanie Ochs. For the past few weeks, Ochs has been showing consistency the Dash desperately need. Her corner kicks are on point, she's smart on her defensive tackles and she's not afraid to push up on the wing and help on the offense. These two players will be key for Houston next season.
As of right now, the Dash have one more game on their schedule - Sunday, August 17 in Boston against the Boston Breakers. They could possibly face Sky Blue FC again to make up for the cancelled game July 2, which was called due to weather.
Houston Dash - McLeod; Romero, Ohale, Diggs, Ochs (81' Souza); Kyle, Masar (47' Jackson), Edwards; Ohai, Burger, Henderson (69' McCarty).
Sky Blue FC - Loyden; Levin, Cutshall (61' Goodson), Rampone, Foord; Schmidt, Nick, Freels; O'Hara, Nadim, Hayes (79' Filingo).