Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it ever happened. A season that will never be forgotten in Houston will come to a close, Friday night, in Orlando.
All season there has been one clear message coming from head coach James Clarkson: win. The Dash have successfully changed their reputation, established a new culture and banished the tired cliche of “The Same Old Dash”. Clarkson deserves plaudits for this. From the minute the Challenge Cup started in Utah, to when the team walked off the BBVA pitch for the final time, they have shown a consistent desire to compete.
The Fall Series has emulated this new mentality even further. Standards did not drop, the first team was galvanised and formidable performances have become customary. Despite the uncertain nature of the competition, no head coach in the NWSL has been as outspoken as Clarkson on prioritising winning the Fall Series.
“I think if we can get a win and get onto nine points, it gives us a good opportunity to win us the whole thing,” Clarkson said in a press conference Thursday. “If not, I think we will get second, so there’s still plenty for us to play for. The players are excited and committed, and they can’t wait to play. We’re fully expecting a very competitive game.”
The most tenacious, together and organized side won out in Utah. What is perhaps most impressive this Autumn, is how Clarkson has improved on the Dash’s overall attacking play. They haved moved beyond just effort and grit. The Dash’s exquisite midfield trio of Shea Groom, Sophie Schimdt and Kristie Mewis have made the pitch feel much bigger. Space is easy to come by when the players assert so much confidence on the ball. One can no longer just pigeon hole the Dash as merely a counter attacking side after dominating possession in every game of the Fall Series.
Let’s try not to get too carried away though. The Orlando Pride will be hosting their first home game of a tumultuous season. Every minute counts for a team that has only played two matches this entire year, having been expelled from the Challenge Cup for COVID-19 positives back in June.
It will be no surprise to see a fired up Marta rifling shots on goal at every chance she gets. Keep in mind that Sydney Leroux was also absent when these sides met last month due to a positive test in the Dash ranks, expect her to take the field at Exploria Stadium with renewed fire. The attacker will add more balance to a Pride attack that struggled after the opening 20minutes at BBVA.
Away from the Pride’s recognizable stars, there is a feel good story for the Floridians in their back four. The Pride drafted Orlando native Carrie Lawrence in January 2020 and the rookie has hit the ground running. The right back, who plays with a patience that belies her age, will likely face off against Bri Visalli on the Dash’s left wing. Undoubtedly one the brightest sparks in a tough season for Orlando, it will be an emotional moment for Lawrence to make her debut in her hometown.
Dash on, one last time.
When: 4PM CDT
Where to watch: CBS Sports Network(US) / TWITCH (worldwide)
Last meeting: Dash 3-1 Pride (9/26/20)
All time record: 8 - 4 - 1
Here’s three things to watch out for:
Vlatko Andonovski announced on Thursday his latest USWNT squad featuring Dash trio Jane Campbell, Shea Groom and Kristie Mewis. With the caveat that all overseas players are ineligible for selection due to quarantine procedures, this was still a huge honor for Groom and Mewis in particular. The two midfielders have had distinguished NWSL careers albeit with multiple setbacks along the way. Both players have bounced around the league between various sides, before finding a home in Houston. Mewis’ has also endured lengthy injury offs. This is Groom’s first USWNT call up since 2016 and she is yet to make an appearance for the national team. Whilst success in the NWSL will always be the prime concern for Clarkson and the Dash, seeing players these three take the field in Orlando as USWNT players is a testament to how brilliant their performances have been in 2020.
End With A Shutout
Speaking to the media midweek, goalkeeper Jane Campbell was blunt when assessing her own personal 2020 season: “in the back of my mind my year hasn’t been great...but we’ve really moved forward as a group”. Campbell and the Dash defense were exceptional in the knockout rounds of the Challenge Cup, near perfect in a penalty shootout and recording three consecutive shutouts on the way to lifting the trophy. However, outside of those three games the Dash only have one clean sheet in seven games, with a league high 12 goals conceded(1.7 goals per game). Otherwise good defensive performances have often crumbled at the first sign of trouble. Allysha Chapman’s reckless penalty and red card undid a promising start in Carolina, a brief lapse in concentration before half time let Marisa Viggiano steal one at home to the Pride and Lynn Williams intuitive looping header caught the Dash off guard late on versus Carolina at home. Consolation goals will still irk the steely Campbell and Naughton. They have one last chance to claim that elusive Fall Series shutout.
Golden Boot + Assist Queen
Now that Christine Sinclair has netted another, Sophie Schimdt still trails by one goal in the Fall Series Golden Boot standings. Despite her penchant for marshalling the space in front of the back four, Schimdt has been immense at instinctually finishing inside and outside the opposition’s box. Especially if the Dash win a penalty on Friday, she could do the improbable and make it five consecutive games with a goal. Hot on her heels is the impeccable Kristie Mewis. With two goals and a NWSL best three assists, Mewis also an outside Golden Boot challenger. From the midfield, these two will bring the fight to the Pride as they bow out on career best streaks in the NWSL.