Dash 1, NC 4

5 kicks from Houston Dash vs. North Carolina Courage

Kealia Ohai returned to the starting lineup after missing the previous game due to injury. Photo by Wilf Thorne/ISIPhotos.com

After starting their season with a win and a draw, the Dash picked up their first loss in a 1-4 humbling from the defending NWSL Champion North Carolina Courage. Houston's only goal came in the 86th minute but served only to lessen the margin of defeat from 0-4.

Here are five observations from Sunday's match:

HIGHLIGHTS: Houston Dash vs. North Carolina Courage | April 28, 2019www.youtube.com

1. Reality check

This match was the best test the team could have this early in the schedule and one that show how far along this Dash roster is under first-year Head Coach James Clarkson. North Carolina was the much more polished side and had more of the ball throughout the game.

The loss itself wasn't a surprise, nor was it automatically expected, but the way in which the Dash was dominated as the second half wore on (Dash only down 0-1 at the half) showed the gap between the two teams. Crystal Dunn's goal in the 60th minute, NC's second, was pure talent and one to be applauded but the rest of the goals were off defensive mistakes.

In order to reach the better teams in the league, or at least compete for the entire game, they will need to show more discipline in their team game. It's not panic mode being only three matches into the season, but it is a warning to close the gap as soon as possible.

2. Another penalty conceded

For the third consecutive game, the Dash conceded a penalty kick to the opposing team. Luckily, nothing came of it as Jane Campbell easily stopped Lynn Williams attempt on Sunday. Carli Lloyd's attempt the previous week was kicked wide and Jodie Taylor's shot in the first match was another low shot blocked by Campbell.

Here's the thing, a penalty should be an automatic goal for the player making the attempt. If missed, that says more about the penalty kick taker, particularly their mental strength, than it does about the goalkeeper.

It's not a factor now but if those kicks are converted successfully, the Dash would be looking at one point in three games to start the year. Having luck is nice but sometimes luck runs out and the Dash need to stop putting themselves in these situations.

3. Daly scores

One of the positives from Sunday was seeing Rachel Daly open her scoring account. The English forward, who has finished as the club's top scorer the past two seasons, had been denied in the earlier matches but finally found the back of the net with a curling stunner.

The benefit of that goal is the confidence that comes with it. The Dash need to find some consistency scoring to get some points in their immediate future.

Daly may be heading to the FIFA Women's World Cup this summer as part of the England squad so she may miss some matches with the Dash. For that reason, it benefits both sides to see her in top form as soon as possible.

4. Ohai back in attack

Kealia Ohai missed last week's road trip because of injury and returned to the starting XI this last weekend. Her performance will arguably be reflected in the Dash's success this year, especially with Daly's potential absence as well as other international players who may be heading to the Women's World Cup like forward Nichelle Prince.

Ohai's best season in attack was 11 goals back in the 2016 season. She has struggled to find that form again after an ACL injury that sidelined her in 2017 and saw her return last season.

Ohai naturally looks a distance away from the danger she presented in her best year. Playing time shouldn't be a problem for her this season and Dash fans will hope that time can get her back to finding her goal soon.

5. Right back rotation

The most notable change to be taken from the three matches so far has been at the right back spot. Taylor Comeau started in the opener, she was replaced by Lindsay Agnew in week two and this weekend's choice was Satara Murray.

Murray had some trial by fire with her NWSL debut coming against the defending champs. She shared part of the blame on some of the goals and was also the player that conceded the penalty kick early in the first half.

Seeing her struggle in her first game was probably expected but it will be interesting to see if the manager continues to place the trust in her to keep her in the XI or if he will switch consistency at that position for the fourth consecutive week.

Dash player of the game: Rachel Daly

Next up:

Sunday, May 5 vs. Orlando Pride (5:00 p.m. CT, YahooSports.com)

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Will Yuli Gurriel return to the Astros? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Defacto Astros general manager Jeff Bagwell was asked point-blank at the team’s annual Fanfest at Minute Maid Park over the weekend:

Do the Astros intend to sign free agent first baseman Yuli Gurriel for another World Series run in 2023? And if the answer is yes … what’s the holdup?

Bagwell, typically a straight shooter, said, “There's nobody that loves Yuli more than us, myself, Jim (Crane), Dusty (Baker), everybody. It's just trying to find the right fit for the club. He's a huge part of our success here. We'll continue to monitor that situation."

Do the Astros really love Gurriel, or do they love him not?

If Bagwell was speaking truth, and everybody in Astros management is aboard the Gurriel love train, why isn’t Gurriel a done deal so fans can stop worrying?

What does that mean, the Astros are trying to find the “right fit for the club?” Seriously? Here’s where Gurriel fits in: first base, second base, third base, DH, and team leader.

More important than his contribution on the diamond, Gurriel is a symbol of Astros excellence, a key member of this close-knit family of players so beloved in Houston.

Yes, Gurriel is 38 years old and coming off a disastrous 2022 season in which he batted a woeful, power outage .242. It was a major dropoff from 2021, when Gurriel won the American League batting title with a .319 average.

Numbers don’t reflect Gurriel’s value to this team. He arrived in Houston from Cuba in 2016. One year later, he took over as the Astros everyday first baseman. The Astros won the World Series that year and began six seasons of unprecedented success never before witnessed in Houston – two World Series championships, four American League pennants, and five AL West titles. Gurriel was in the middle of every postseason run – driving in key runs and turning errant throws from Astros infielders into outs at first base.

Current MLB rosters allow for 26 players. The Astros can’t find a spot for arguably one of Houston’s favorite athletes of all time? With the best hair (no argument there).

Yes, the Astros have promising young players who need to see the field to develop. But the Astros lineup is loaded with veterans so it’s not like there’s much room for rookies, anyway. The Astros could keep Gurriel and trade a prospect for experienced help behind the plate.

Two years ago, I went to a sports collectors show in Houston. There were dozens of pro athletes, including several Astros, scribbling autographs. The longest line led to Yuli Gurriel.

Recent stories from the Hot Stove League have Gurriel headed to the Miami Marlins. He’s not ready to spend his baseball golden years in Florida. Before we allow a Houston treasure loose, c’mon Astros, prove that your professed love for Gurriel is real. Keep La Pina where he belongs.

Editor's note: The Marlins interest in Yuli Gurriel seems to have cooled off, per Jon Heyman. The Twins or Astros could have interest.

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