Head Coach: James Clarkson
Notable Players: Kristie Mewis, Rachel Daly, Jane Campbell, Christine Nairn
Houston Dash didn’t have the best of runs last season. With a roster that was not short of talent, it was a disappointing conclusion finishing seventh in the league.
On the whole a mediocre performance all round; the Dash did what they needed to do, but didn’t ever seem to really get going. Defensively, they were sound, conceding a total of 36 goals, just over the league average. Yet it was on the attack where they fell short. Just 21 goals scored. The Dash had the shots, but the final finish lacked any sort of conviction. Long story short, they should have done better.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, in fact, it’s far from it. If the Dash are able to pull together their attacking line to match the quality they are producing further back, they could be real contenders.
The off season has been fairly busy for the Texan team, with a few trades to report, but one departure is particularly notable. Captain Kealia Ohai has parted ways with the Dash and joined Chicago Red Stars in exchange for defender Katie Naughton. Ohai’s exit is a blow, her athleticism and leadership will be sorely missed. Feisty forward Rachel Daly, and tried and tested goalkeeper Jane Campbell, have been named as captains ahead of the tournament.
Joining the Dash are Katie Stengel from Utah Royals and college draft pick Bridgette Andrzejewski. The arrival of both will spice up Houston’s forward line, bringing a mix of experience and youth respectively. The pair will likely at some point join forces with Daly and playmaker Kristie Mewis. Forward, Shea Groome has also joined after only playing a handful of games for OL Reign last season.
Where finesse in the final third has been their downfall, the addition of these naturally attacking players is welcomed. However, whether they will have had enough time to cohesively gel as a unit will remain to be seen.
The recent call ups for the national team for Mewis and Campbell also look to breathe a much-needed confidence into the team dynamics. Mewis came back with a vengeance last season after suffering an ACL injury previously. The gifted midfielder ended the season with four goals to her name; this reinstated hunger for the back of the net can only help Houston’s campaign.
Midfielder Christine Nairn also looks to be an essential piece of the puzzle. Mighty in the middle, Nairn has an experience like no other, with the most appearances in the league, across a number of clubs. Wise and unselfish, Nairn is adept in assisting, and will be vital in creating chances. With fresh attacking feet, the Dash will hopefully utilise the efforts of their solid midfield.
So, what do their preliminary rounds like? Well, fortunately the draw fell rather favourably for the Dash. They will kick off their campaign on 30th June and here’s how their schedule looks:
30th June – Utah Royals FC
4th July – OL Reign
9th July – Sky Blue FC
12th July – Washington Spirit
With all of these teams ending last season close to the Dash, sitting between the middle and lower half of the table, their opening matches could settle nerves and iron out any glaring weaknesses before heading into the knock-out stages. This does not however mean that the preliminary rounds will be an easy ride. All of these teams will have something to prove and this tournament is just the place to execute this.
Looking at the changes the Dash have made, and last year’s final standings, don’t be surprised to see them go all out over the next few weeks. Clarkson and his side are looking to make a statement. With an influx of talent to tighten up that front line, and an already robust defence, Houston Dash could well be the underdogs of the Challenge Cup.
By Charlotte Stacey
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos