Seattle's Kim Little scored her 13th and 14th goals of the season sending the Seattle Reign FC to a decisive 4-1 win over the Houston Dash. Seattle's ( 15-1-4, 49 points) victory at BBVA Compass Stadium clinched the NWSL regular season title before a nationally televised audience.
The Reign's Sydney Leroux wasted little time taking advantage of Houston's light marking and generous spacing in Seattle's offensive third of the field. The USWNT forward found herself nearly all alone inside the six yard box as she gathered in a deflection off Whitney Engen before turning Houston defender Stephanie Ochs around and slipping a shot under a diving Erin McLeod and into the net for a 1-0 lead in the second minute of play.
It was a disappointing start for a Houston team that had seemed to turn around its porous defense over a three game unbeaten streak.
"Tonight I felt like we came and out and respected them way too much. I thought it was 20 minutes before we ever made a tackle," lamented head coach Randy Waldrum. "Players got close and then said you know what that's close enough and when you play a team like Seattle they will shred you like they did us when you give them that kind of time. That was the disappointing thing for me. We were just soft."
It was another soft goal in the 26th minute that gave Little, the NWSL's top scorer, the game winner. It was a ball the Scottish born midfielder corralled from Jessica Fishlock as she raced through the Houston backline and slipped a right-footed shot by McLeod.
Houston (5-11-3, 18 points) was not without its opportunities. Two minutes after Little's goal, Dash mid-fielder Becky Edwards forced an acrobatic save from Seattle keeper Hope Solo as she headed a Ochs corner towards the low corner of the net. A minute later, rookie forward Kealia Ohai sent a service into the box that fellow forward Melissa Henderson tipped wide. In the 41st minute, Ohai delivered another ball into the box that midfielder Jordan Jackson drilled point blank at Solo.
Seattle countered the save by Solo into one final attack of the opening half but McLeod's kick save stopped Japanese international Nahomi Kawasumi's attempt keeping the deficit at two.
Seattle once again struck Houston early scoring just three minutes into the second half. Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe sent what appeared to be a service into the box but it continued to drift goalward sneaking its way under the crossbar and a 3-0 lead.
Down three, Houston began to answer back in the 55th minute. Dash rookie forward Kealia Ohai surprised a stunned Hope Solo with a shot inside the near post for houston's only goal.
In the first half, I was doing a lot of dribbling down the line and crossing it in," said the former North Carolina Lady Tar Heel. "I think that's what she thought was going to happen but I saw the near post open and I put it in."
Ohai's fourth goal of the season was her third in Houston's last four contests.
McLeod came up with two big saves in the 58th minute to keep Houston's comeback hopes alive. Off her line, the Dash captain blocked Rapinoe's attempt for a second goal and then smothered the rebound shot of Keelin Winters.
"Erin's been big time for us all season," continued Waldrum in his postgame analysis. "The irony of that play is that Erin would probably tell you that she made a poor decision on giving the ball away and knowing Erin like I do she would say I had to come up and redeem myself and she did."
Nine minutes later, Houston nearly pulled within one as Solo misplayed a ball that Dash forward Tiffany McCarty almost reached with a wide open net before Little sealed the win.
Racing through the Houston defense in the 78th minute, the nine year veteran cut to her right and let loose with her 14th goal of the season giving Seattle a three goal lead.
"They were fantastic," concluded Waldrum in giving credit to the Seattle side. "It's just the vision that they play with, it's the vision of what we want our team to look like and we know it's going to take time."
Houston gets another chance to move a step closer to that vision on Sunday August 3, 2014 when they travel to Portland for an 9:00 p.m. CDT match on ESPN2.
"It's little things that young teams learn. I've said it before small moments make a difference. We'll get there I assure you.
"They were lethal in their finishing and we weren't.