The playoff hopes for the Houston Dash are all but gone. In front of a sellout crowd of 9,530 of the most dedicated Dash fans, Seattle's Kim Little sliced through an Ella Masar-less Houston defense for an unanswered hattrick. It was the second straight loss to Seattle after an August home-and-home series, potentially ending the Dash season if FC Kansas City can record a result at home Saturday night.
Masar, who was suspended on yellow card accumulation, was replaced in the lineup by Jen LaPonte, who made her first professional start for the Dash this year (she played in five matches earlier this season under an amateur status). While LaPonte put in a rather good shift in defense, Masar's stubbornness was sorely needed in the second half as the Reign's Little found one run after another to punish the Dash.
A quick but heavy thunderstorm moved through the Houston area an hour before kickoff, producing puddles along the eastern sideline, disrupting many balls played on the ground for either team. Despite that, the Dash came out from the delay firing on all cylinders. The frenetic pace of the match was set by Kealia Ohai and Jessica McDonald - both of which found themselves with the ball in space but were unable to get shots past Hope Solo.
In the 40th minute, however, McDonald nearly had a breakthrough. LaPonte found herself along the right sideline with enough room to loop a ball into the box. It found McDonald who slammed the ball past Seattle keeper Hope Solo but was ruled out on a close offside call.
With the Dash in control, Seattle found an almost immediate response a minute later. Reign defender Lauren Barnes played a long ball over the top to Kim Little who had snuck in behind defender Ellie Brush and beat goalkeeper Erin McLeod in a one-on-one.
At the halftime whistle, the Dash must have felt deflated to be trailing despite their terrific first-half effort. Coach Randy Waldrum decided to pull midfielder Morgan Brian (who had been dealing with back issues prior to the game) in favor of forward Melissa Henderson, hoping to hammer home a response to Seattle's Little.
In the early stages of the second half, the offense was flowing through Ohai. The second-year forward tried in several ways to spark the attack, but Seattle appeared to better deal with everyone on the field not named Carli Lloyd. Repeatedly, Lloyd would find the ball some thirty yards out and proceed to slalom through two, three, even four defenders and take the shot herself.
But by the 73rd minute, it was beginning to feel like not enough. In one of the clearest indications that Masar's presence was needed on the backline, Kim Little received a pass about 35 yards out from goal and surprisingly found no defensive pressure to play through. Walking the ball towards the top of the arc, Little finally let out a powerful shot across the body of McLeod and into the side netting.
There were about three more Dash chances that half, all by Carli Lloyd, that failed to find the net and perk up any comeback of their own. In the 85th minute, the final chance, Lloyd received the ball and found plenty of time and space to maneuver into the box and curl a shot from distance just wide of the post.
But for the sake of completion, Kim Little would wrap up her hattrick in the waning minutes of the match. Picking up the ball from outside the box in the 90th minute, she drove through three Dash defenders and a charging McLeod for an easy putaway.
The loss keeps the Dash five points out of the final playoff spot with just two matches remaining. FC Kansas City, whom the Dash are chasing, have three matches left and a draw in Kansas City on Saturday would effectively eliminate the Dash from contention. Though they'd be alive mathematically, Houston would have to overcome a massive goal difference.
The next match for Houston will be their home closer of the season against Boston Breakers on August 30th at 7:30PM at BBVA Compass Stadium. Seattle returns home on the 29th to face Sky Blue FC.
HOU: McLeod; Pressley, LaPonte (64'), Brush, Klingenberg; Andressa, Brian (46'), Lloyd, Axon; Ohai, McDonald (74')
Subs: Henninger, Camila (74'), Chapman (64'), Jackson, McCarty, Henderson (46')
SEA: Solo; Barnes, Corsie, Fletcher, Cox; Little, Mathias (81'), Fishlock, Winters; Rapinoe (77'), Yanez (36')
Subs: Kopmeyer, Reed (77'), Dallstream, Bullock (81'), Brooks, Foxhoven, Veje (36')
42' - Kim Little (SEA)
73' - Kim Little (SEA)
90' - Kim Little (SEA)