The Houston Dash are hosting Utah Royals FC on Friday night, and both teams are going to be extremely motivated to get a win. The Dash, after briefly leading the league early in the season, are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff position. Houston has not made the playoffs in team history, so missing out for the sixth season in a row would be quite the blow.
The Utah Royals have been tearing up the league lately, and they are in a strong position to make the playoffs for the first time in the team's two-year history. The return of Christen Press has sparked a strong winning streak for the Royals, and the team currently sits in fourth place in the league. With a five-point deficit compared to the second-place Portland Thorns FC, Utah will need to continue their winning ways if they want to make up that ground with their two games in hand.
Houston has been struggling
Outside of English forward Rachel Daly, the Dash have been in a bad way lately. They have lost their last two matches, but there are reasons to be hopeful about this week's match.
When these two teams met earlier in the season, Daly was able to score a brace on the road in Sandy, UT. After coming back from the World Cup, Daly picked right back up where she left off by trying to drag the Dash to victory. Her appearance has rejuvenated the play of Kristie Mewis, but a season-ending injury to Nichele Prince took away the second best offensive option for the Dash.
It was widely expected going into the season that Kealia Ohai and Sofia Huerta would bounce back in 2019 to build a strong team in Houston. Unfortunately, both of those veterans have failed to live up to the preseason billing, and no other players have been able to fill in their missing offensive performances. If Houston is going to win, they need to find some success from players not named Daly, and the defense needs to help protect goalkeeper Jane Campbell against Christen Press.
Utah has taken a huge step forward
After trading for forward Christen Press in 2018, the Royals were never able to get going and ended up missing the playoffs in their first season. There were questions about whether that trade would work out well for the Royals, but this season has silenced those questions.
After coming back from the World Cup, no player has made a bigger impact on her team than Press. She took a team that could barely score and turned it into one that had to be planned for from an offensive perspective. Her impact on the field has not been limited to scoring,she has also created assists and opportunities for her teammates. Both she and Amy Rodriguez have scored a flurry of goals, and URFC is carrying a six-game undefeated streak into this match, with five wins and one draw in that run.
The defense, which had been struggling, has also been vastly improved. Utah has conceded just one goal in those six games, thanks to the centerback pairing of Rachel Corsie and Becky Sauerbrunn. The Houston offense is not particularly potent, so the Royals could be looking at their sixth clean sheet in seven games. This is a game the Royals need to win, but it's also a game they should win.
How to watch
This game will kick off at 8:30 p.m. ET at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. The game will be broadcast live on Yahoo! Sports in the United States and on ESPN internationally.