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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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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