NWSL: Orlando and Houston battle to a draw in second Space Race fixture

Orlando Pride players celebrate Taylor Kornieck's goal.
Orlando Pride players celebrate Taylor Kornieck's late goal against the Houston Dash on 5 September 2021 at Explorer Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire)

After a slow start that Houston capitalized on, Orlando fought back to earn a point at home. It was the second of two regular season fixtures between the two space-themed sides.

On June 26, Houston snapped Orlando’s early season undefeated run. Because of this, the Pride were looking to make amends as the playoffs loom.

How the teams lined up

Orlando Pride: Ashlyn Harris (Erin McLeod 67′), Phoebe McClernon (Taylor Kornieck 74′), Ali Krieger, Amy Turner (Toni Pressley 73′), Ali Riley, Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir, Marta, Meggie Dougherty Howard (Kylie Strom 90+7′), Erika Tymrak (Marisa Viggiano 67′), Jodie Taylor, Sydney Leroux.

Houston Dash: Jane Campbell, Haley Hanson, Abby Dahlkemper, Katie Naughton, Allysha Chapman, Shea Groom (Sophie Schmidt 71′), Gabby Seiler (Makamae Gomera-Stevens 90+3′), Kristie Mewis, Nichelle Prince (Michaela Abam 89′), Rachel Daly, Jasmyne Spencer (Brianna Visalli 89′).

Houston, we have lift off

Immediately out of the gate, Orlando seemed sluggish. This was surprising given the fact that Houston had played one game more than Orlando in the last seven days.

Conversely, Houston were explosive and displayed a lot of energy early on. This paid off in the form of a 10th minute goal by Rachel Daly.

After an Orlando attack fizzled out, Houston regained possession. Daly passed the ball to Shea Groom, who then sent it forward on the right side to Nichelle Prince. Ali Riley was able to cut the pass out. However, her touch fell into the path of Daly who found the back of the net with a first time finish.

From there, the Dash continued to put pressure on Orlando. The pace of Prince on the outside was a consistent threat to the Pride’s backline for a majority of the first half.

In the 35th minute, Houston won a corner that almost resulted in another goal. After Daly served the ball into the six-yard box, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris tipped the ball to her back post. Groom then volleyed the oncoming ball back at Harris, who swatted it off the goal line.

After the ball escaped the six-yard box, Haley Hanson crossed it back in. A combination of Ali Krieger and Amy Turner headed the ball away from goal. Yet the play did not stop there, as the ball landed to Kristie Mewis. She fired the ball to the near post, only for Harris to come up big with her third save of the sequence.

From that moment on, the Pride began building momentum. Just before half, both Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir and Sydney Leroux had great long-range efforts. Despite the pressure mounting from Orlando, Houston maintained their lead at the break.

Kornieck takes flight

In the second half, the two sides were much more evenly matched. Houston started off strong again as Prince continued to own her side of the pitch.

Everything then took an unfortunate turn after Harris jumped to collect an inswinging corner. While bringing the ball into her clutches, she landed awkwardly against surrounding players and hit her head in the process. The ball then bounced out of her reach, but was cleared away before the match official called a halt to the game.

After a long pause, Harris was able to walk off the pitch. Backup goalkeeper Erin McLeod then came on in Harris’s place as a concussion substitute.

When the game resumed, players were raring to go. Both sides also began making their normal substitutions, introducing fresh legs to combat the fatigue-inducing Florida heat.

One such substitution that paid off for Orlando was the introduction of Taylor Kornieck in the 74th minute. Just five minutes after the former Colorado Buffalo came on, Kornieck found herself at the end of a Meggie Dougherty Howard corner kick.

Rising up in a crowded six-year box, Kornieck headed the ball past Jane Campbell in goal. It marked Kornieck’s second goal of the regular season.

Following Orlando’s goal, the two sides continued working vigorously late into the game. Despite 10 minutes of stoppage time, neither side was able to get onto the scoresheet again.

Upcoming missions

The draw keeps Houston out of a playoff position. Yet, the Southeast Texas team is just a win away from reaching the playoffs.

Next, they will face the Chicago Red Stars at home on Friday 10 September. A win in that game could mean Houston break into the league table’s top five. After a recent string of mediocre results, a lot is riding on the Dash’s upcoming fixtures.

As for Orlando, they currently sit in fourth place. Because a handful of other NWSL teams drew this past weekend, not much changes for the Pride in terms of the league standings.

On 11 September, the Pride will face off against Racing Louisville FC. While Louisville has failed to win a game since the start of August, they are a team that should not be underestimated. Orlando cannot let their guard down if they want to ensure a playoff spot.

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