Just as the Houston Dynamo are not your team of old, the Houston Dash will not be the same team in 2016 that fans have seen the previous two seasons.
In 2014, the inaugural season of women’s return to soccer here in Houston at least from a professional standpoint, the Houston Dash had a total of 122 days to put a club on the field once the NWSL’s (National Women’s Soccer League) first expansion franchise was announced on December 12, 2013. The team did not do as well as fans may have liked however much of the season went as expected for a new organization trying to get its legs under them.
2015 saw improvement from the expansion club to a side fighting for a playoff berth into the final weeks of the season. It was a season that brought new challenges as well. Head coach Randy Waldrum‘s team had the most players (6) playing for their national sides during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and ultimately fielded two different squads in the same season.
Now comes 2016 and a look at a team that is poised and built to make a title run. Sure there are question marks to be answered but for a team now in its third season there is reason to believe that this is the year of the Houston Dash.
“We just look so much better,” said Waldrum talking about his team just two days into the 2016 preseason session. “Overall the talent level is so much better than it was even last year and definitely the year before.”
Up front the team lost leading scorer Jessica McDonald and Tiffany McCarty. Despite the loss of McDonald, the team has brought in even more dynamic players in the presence of Chioma Ubogagu pronounced chee-OH-ma ah-bo-ga-gu, Canadian international and rookie Janine Beckie, and Rachel Daly. The talents of those three combined with the 2015 Houston Dash MVP and Player’s Player of the Year Kealia Ohai and this will be an exciting and more consistent attacking squad.
“Chioma looks really good with the ball, efficient around the goal and Rachel Daly brings something new and different to us. It’s a different level than we had before.”
In the mid, could there be a more formidable combination of holding mid Morgan Brian, 2015 CWOQ Golden Ball winner and attacking mid FIFA 2015 Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd? Add in the abiiity of Melissa Henderson and Andressato facilitate an attack from anywhere on the pitch and on you have a dangerous scoring team.
On the backline, which was a patchwork last season for a variety of reasons the improvement will be even more pronounced in 2016. Ellie Brush, the Australian is back for a full season in the middle and her tenacity will be the identity of this year’s defense. Along with Brush, you can expect the Brazilian defender Poliana and a healthy Allysha Chapman and Stephanie Ochs to solidify a defense that was in need of help last season.
Between the pipes, Waldrum once again has two world class keepers in Bianca Henninger and Lydia Williams, the Australian national team keeper. Henninger posted four shutouts last season including the two ever back-to-back shoutouts in franchise history. Her play allowed for the departure of Erin McLeod whom Henninger refers to as the best in the world.
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Overall every team in the NWSL will be better but this Houston Dash team is vastly improved in every area and although there will be hiccups along the way, if this team is not in the 2016 title chase it will be a disappointment.
“In year three we are finally getting the team and the players we envisioned in year one,” finished Waldrum. “Everyone’s been patient with it. You make big strides from year one to last year and just missing the playoffs. this year we are definitely going to be better, more exciting and more entertaining for our fans.”
2016 Houston Dash Preseason Roster
Goalkeepers (4): Haley Carter**, Bianca Henninger, Kate Scheele**, Lydia Williams***
Defenders (9): Ellie Brush, Allysha Chapman, Janelly Farias**, Jen LaPonte, Stephanie Ochs, Poliana, Cari Roccaro****, Lauren Sesselmann**, Caroline Van Slambrouck**
Midfielders (8): Monica Alvarado**, Andressa, Morgan Brian, Amber Brooks, Caity Heap**, Carli Lloyd, Cami Privett, Chestley Strother**
Forwards (8): Allie Bailey**, Janine Beckie*, Bianca Brinson**, Rachel Daly*, Tessa Gavilsky-Florio**, Melissa Henderson, Kealia Ohai, Chioma Ubogagu
*2016 NWSL College Draft pick
***Currently with national team
****Not in preseason camp