What a difference one week in the National Women's Soccer League can make. The last time these two teams met, the Orlando Pride ran away as 4-2 winners over the Houston Dash but this time around, the Dash came into Orlando and put on a solid show to get a 2-0 win over their hosts.
Lloyd wins the battle of the number 10s
At the start of the game, all the attention was on the two number 10s for the respective teams. Carli Lloyd for the Dash and Marta for the Pride. It was Lloyd who came out on top as her influence grew throughout the 90 minutes while Marta faded as the game wore on. Marta could have given her team the lead in the 27th minute when she was found in the box by a cross from Steph Catley but her header came off the crossbar after having beaten Jane Campbell in goal, which allowed the goalkeeper to recover and pick up the ball without conceding.
As the game wore on, the Dash began to find their rhythm and Lloyd's influence on the game grew. In added time at the end of the first half, Poliana found Lloyd lurking at the top of the box unmarked, and the US international then fired a powerful shot towards goal that left Bledsoe sprawling and gave the Dash the lead just before half-time. The second half saw Lloyd continue to affect the game and she was the key to Houston's second goal when played a lovely long through ball for Poliana to run onto before the Brazilian then found the second goal scorer of the day, Rachel Daly. Marta may have had the more prominent presence in the opening minutes but it was Lloyd who led her team to victory today and left her stamp on the game.
Poliana gets the start and becomes a key performer
Poliana had been coming off the bench under Randy Waldrum but when Oscar Morales took over the team, he placed the Brazilian defender back into the starting line up and it paid dividends today. Poliana almost picked up a goal for herself in the 42nd minute when she was found running into the box by Andressinha but Audrey Bledsoe was on hand to deflect the shot and Steph Catley cleared it off the goal line. Poliana's rampaging runs were not heeded by Orlando and in added time in the first half, the full back made her presence felt again when she pushed into the boc before finding Lloyd for the opener.
The second half was more of the same for the Dash and again, Poliana was able to make runs down the right hand flank at will. For whatever reason, the Pride did not make the tactical adjustment necessary to have their wide midfielder track Poliana and she made them pay once again when she found Rachel Daly in the 62nd minute for Houston's second. Daly's finish was a neat one but full credit must go to the Brazilian for laying off the perfect pass for Daly to run onto and finish with one touch. Poliana also had a second chance at getting a goal in the 7th minute but her header went off the post and away. On the defensive side of the ball, Poliana forced Marta more to the middle than out wide which compacted the game for Orlando and allowed Houston to defend more easily. It was a standout game for Poliana and more than enough reason for her to keep her starting job at right back.
Orlando have tactical problems across the board
For a team that's known to be excellent on the transition, Orlando struggled with Houston's pace and vision on the break. No one was marking Carli Lloyd on the first goal and for the second goal, no one was marking Lloyd tightly to prevent her from spraying her pass out wide to Poliana. The Orlando defense, or more accurately their team defense, was also at fault for allowing Poliana to break forward at will from her position at right back. They had had warning signs in the first half of how easily Poliana was able to push forward and did not adjust. Orlando's defense was not quick enough to keep up with the pace that Houston has up top and they could have conceded a third in the 81st minute when Janine Beckie outpaced Toni Pressley but Bledsoe was on hand to make another good stop.
At the other end of the field, there is no questioning Marta's qualities but Orlando will need Alex Morgan back to full fitness sooner rather than later. For all of the talk coming out of the coaching staff about not having the team be reliant on one player, Morgan's accuracy in front of goal and all-around threat is something the Pride need desperately if they want to make the playoffs this season.