A Preseason Look at the Houston Dash
Who are they?
The Houston Dash was the NWSL's first expansion team, originating in 2014. They are directly affiliated with the MLS team, Houston Dynamo. The Dash has never won an NWSL championship with their best preseason finish being fifth in 2015. They did win the inaugural NWSL Challenge Cup during the 2020 bubble in Utah. This was the first time the Dash had ever made it to a playoff and their run to the championship was a surprise to almost everyone.
The team’s colors include orange, black, and sky blue. The original crest which was used until 2020 included a soccer ball with the words ‘Houston Dash’ and blue lines in the background. The team rebranded its crest before the 2021 season. It includes an H at the center that is orange and sky blue. The words ‘Houston Dash’ is below it with a star representing Houston’s 2020 Challenge Cup win.
The team does not currently have a head coach as their coach, James Clarkson was suspended on April 26, 2022, due to the conclusion of a joint investigation that started back in October of 2021. The investigation was between the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association. They recommend the suspension of Clarkson after alleged violations of the NWSL Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Workplace Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying. Before his suspension, Clarkson was the longest-tenured coach in the NWSL and the only coach still with the same team from the 2021 season. The club is planning to name an interim head coach in the upcoming days with the kickoff of the 2022 regular season approaching rapidly.
During the Challenge Cup, the Dash finished fourth in the Central Division with six points. They had a record of 2-4-0 meaning they had two wins and four losses. In their two wins, they beat Racing Louisville twice by a score of 3-2 and 2-1. The Dash scored only seven goals in their six goals but conceded 13. This Challenge Cup proved to be underwhelming for the Dash but they can hope they are able to find more positive results in the regular season. Houston starts their season at home against the San Diego Wave, on Sunday, May 1, 2022.
Meet the Players
The Dash currently have 25 players on their roster, with the large majority of their 2021 roster returning but without a few key pieces from last season. In terms of losses, they lost Megan Montefusco (nee Oyster), Kristie Mewis, and Veronica Latsko. These players were all huge parts of the 2021 Houston Dash and losing them leaves big gaps in the Dash roster.
The Dash is led by captain Rachel Daly, an English international. Daly has been with the team since being drafted in 2016. She is accompanied by Jane Campbell who remains the Dash’s starting goalkeeper. Daly has scored 33 goals for the Dash in 95 appearances. She broke the Dash’s all-time scoring record of 29 goals last season which was set by Kealia Watt during her time in Houston.
Up with Daly on the front line, this season is Mexican international and former Tigres star, María Sánchez. Sánchez joined the Dash on a month-long loan last season in June of 2021. Fans of the Dash and NWSL alike fell in love with Sánchez’s playing style and wished for more Sánchez in the NWSL. The Dash signed Sánchez permanently on January 6, 2022. She has already made her impact in the Challenge Cup being named the NWSL Player of the Week after her performance against Racing Louisville on March 25, 2022.
Behind Sánchez and Daly will be Shea Groom. Groom broke out for the Dash during the 2020 Challenge Cup. She was named the Finals MVP after scoring the game-clinching goal in the 94’. She is known for being a dirtier player in the NWSL but does a very good job in holding the Dash midfield together. They will need her to stay in good form without Mewis in their midfield.
The Dash also has three Canadians who were a part of the gold medal-winning team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They have forward Nichelle Prince, midfielder Sophie Schmidt, and defender Allysha Chapman all on their roster. Prince is a huge part of Houston’s attacking line and scored the first goal in the Dash’s game against Racing which ended 2-1 to the Dash. Chapman is an integral part of the Dash’s defense, as she is able to cut off crosses and is a very good 1v1 defender on the flanks. Schmidt is no longer a consistent starter for the Dash but continues to add depth and leadership to their team.
Houston also added three non-rookies during the offseason with Marisa Viggiano, Kelcie Hedge, and Elizabeth Eddy. Viggiano was previously with the Orlando Pride and has immediately slotted into a starting defensive midfielder role with the Dash. She started and played in all six of the Dash’s Challenge Cup games. Hedge was traded from the OL Reign. Hedge made her professional debut in July of 2021 after an ACL injury kept her out of the 2020 season. Eddy was formerly in Gotham before being traded to the Dash. Eddy appeared 35 times for Gotham in the span of two years. Houston added two rookies this season. They drafted Ryan Gareis in the 2022 College Draft. They had drafted Joelle Anderson in the 2021 College Draft, but Anderson chose to take her extra year of college eligibility and joined the Dash this season.
What do I want to see?
Houston finished seventh last season after winning the 2020 Challenge Cup and finishing as the runner-up of the 2020 Fall Series. This put them just outside the playoffs again after losing to the Washington Spirit on the final day of the season. Houston had moments of brilliance last season and moments where they struggled to even score. They also really struggled during the international breaks, but especially the Olympics as they lost five players to Canada, Great Britain, and the U.S. Consistency and making sure they are able to reach another level during the latter stages of the season will be the difference-maker for the Dash this season. The Dash has a lot of younger talent but still a good amount of NWSL veterans. Having this mix of talent should benefit them because they will be able to have fresh faces in some games while still having league legends on the field.
I would also like to see the Dash solidify their defense because we have seen that without Montefusco, they are struggling to keep a clean sheet. They did not keep a single clean sheet during the 2022 Challenge Cup. Katie Naughton and Ally Prisock will be essential pieces to the defensive puzzle for the Dash but they will need to figure out what other players work best on that backline.
With their coach suspended, the response from the players and whoever they decide to hire will be something to keep a close eye on because we have seen that a new coach can do wonders for a team with both the OL Reign and the Washington Spirit. Hopefully, the Dash are able to find and hire a new coach soon so the players can become accustomed to that coach’s style of play before getting too far into the regular season. Houston has in fact named their assistant coach, Sarah Lowdon, as the acting head coach for the game against the San Diego Wave on Sunday, May 1, 2022.
Goalkeepers: Jane Campbell, Ella Dederick, Lindsey Harris
Defenders: Michelle Alozie, Julia Ashley, Allysha Chapman, Haley Hanson, Katie Naughton, Annika Schmidt, Sophia Schmidt
Midfielders: Hannah Diaz, Elizabeth Eddy, Cali Farquharson, Shea Groom, Makamae Gomera-Stevens, Kelcie Hedge, Emily Ogle, Marisa Viggiano, Bri Visalli
Forwards: Michaela Abam, Joelle Anderson, Rachel Daly (INT), Ryan Gareis (CDP), Paulina Gramaglia (INT), Nichelle Prince, María Sánchez
CDP- college draft pick