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, 2019 www.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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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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