The records keep on tumbling. Another cool, calm and confident midfield display led the way as the Houston Dash dismantled the North Carolina Courage 4-1 at BBVA stadium. The 2018 and 2019 NWSL champions had previously never lost a match to Houston in their history, nor had they ever been defeated by three or more goals.
Unlike the raucous 4-3 affair fixture in Cary, NC, this match opened with a more polite and cozy atmosphere. Both sides kept their shape well for the opening half an hour. Houston once again striving to keep the ball and let defenders Katie Naughton and Hayley Hansen build the play. It appears with every match that passes, in the Fall Series, the Dash improve their conviction to play on the front foot.
The deadlock was eventually broken with a smart short corner routine by Kristie Mewis. Mewis exchanged a pass with Hansen, unsettling the packed Courage box, then darted to the byline and dinked the ball across. Sophie Schmidt was in the prime position to scoop the ball home from six yards out. The Canadian’s quite extraordinary run of form continues; it was her fourth goal in her fourth consecutive game.
The Dash had been the better side for the majority of the first half but had looked uncharacteristically tranquil. The harmony would not sustain. Shea Groom surged forward to aid Mewis in pressing the Courage back line. Groom lunged in and dispossessed Courage center back Addisyn Merrick, turning the ball over on the edge of the Courage box. Mewis slipped it through to an unmarked Veronica Latkso, who calmly slotted it home.
Two goals to the good at half time, it was all too easy for the team in orange. North Carolina did remerge rejuvenated after the break, Debinha sliced the ball over from 16 yards for the Courage’s first sight of goal. The Brazilian, a bright spark on a dim night for the Courage, will know she could have done better.
Any notion of a second half comeback was quickly doused just before the hour when the Dash extended their lead even further. A hopeful long ball over the top, left to bounce by a downcast Ally Dahlkemper, was latched onto by Latsko. The forward used her body well to buy some time for an oncoming Mewis. The midfielder collected the ball, trotted into the Courage 18 yard box, and lashed the ball into the bottom right hand corner. It was the sweetest strike of the ball you will see at BBVA this year.
An otherwise flawless display from Naughton was blemished when she was second best to a ball whipped in from the right hand side by Ryan Williams. Lynn Williams’ jolting header looped over a disoriented Jane Campbell and nestled into the Dash net. Williams is one of the most competent strikers in the NWSL. Even on an off night, this was further evidence that the forward can turn one half chance into a goal.
It would turn out to be only a consolation but the frustration was clear. The Dash defense, so dominant for 74 minutes, had let their guard down for one moment. Players like Naughton and Campbell will see great pride in leaving a well earned victory with a clean sheet, this stung.
The final word was left to one of the few players to punctuate the evening with real bite. Groom - booked for dissent around the 70th minute - never let her guard down. Mewis picked up the ball off Jamia Fields, after the attacker had made space down the left channel, and once again penetrated the Courage box. The imbuing Mewis drew in Dahlkemper and drove the ball across the six yard box. Groom majestically steered the cross into the net with a cute flick of her heel. Air Groom was once again taking off from Houston.
In a match of multiple star performers it was Kristie Mewis who shone the brightest. The midfielder, who had a hand in every goal, will be hard pushed to ever repeat her stat line of scoring one goal and assisting three.
The brevity of Houston’s home stand this year will not dampen the celebrations. Records have been broken, the free-scoring side is undefeated at BBVA and they have developed a new zeal when in control of the ball. The Courage, albeit without a coterie of their best players, have never been beaten quite like this.