The Houston Dash advanced to the first final in team history with a 1-0 victory over the Portland Thorns this afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
After creating multiple chances over the first hour, the Dash finally broke through in the 69th minute when forward Rachel Daly headed the ball into the back of the net off of a corner kick. Midfielder Kristie Mewis lofted the corner, Houston’s fifth of the match, to the back post and midfielder Sophie Schmidt headed it on goal, but Schmidt’s shot caromed off the crossbar, igniting a scramble for the loose ball with Daly reacting the quickest.
The goal snapped a 376-minute scoreless drought for the Dash, although more importantly it gave Houston the margin they needed to move on to Sunday’s NWSL Challenge Cup Final. It will mark the first appearance in a final in Dash history.
Houston will face the winner of tonight’s second semifinal between the Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. CDT.
Goalkeeper Jane Campbell made a routine, but massive, save in the 93rd minute wen she calmly collected a headed shot from Portland forward Tyler Lussi as Houston strove to close out the match. Campbell once again came up big a minute later, racing off her line to smother a 50-50 ball before forward Morgan Weaver could get onto the end of it.
Campbell was credited with three saves in the victory. She and the Dash back line kept a clean sheet for the third time in six games during the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Although Daly earned Budweiser Woman of the Match honors with her match-winning goal, her fellow forwards had plenty of influence on the contest as well, as Bri Visalli and Nichelle Prince each created numerous dangerous opportunities throughout the match.
Prince was a one-woman counterattack on numerous occasions for the Dash. In the 35th minute, she raced the length of the pitch to catch up to a clearance from defender Allysha Chapman and force a corner kick, then looked as though she would find the opener in the 62nd when she ran in behind the Portland defense to get on the end of a through-ball from midfielder Kristie Mewis to get one-on-one with Eckerstrom. Her low right-footed shot forced a diving save from the Portland ‘keeper. Visalli fired a side volley off the rebound, but Eckerstrom was well positioned for the save once again.
Visalli buzzed all over the pitch throughout the contest, whipping in crosses from both corners, tracking back to regain possession defensively, and popping up in the middle of the pitch to help maintain possession during a typically energetic 90-minute shift.