Dash 1, NC 4
5 kicks from Houston Dash vs. North Carolina Courage
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
Sunday, May 5 vs. Orlando Pride (5:00 p.m. CT, YahooSports.com)