In a battle for first place, the top two scoring machines in the National Women’s Soccer League go head to head on Saturday night as the Washington Spirit host the Houston Dash. The Spirit sit atop the NWSL standings with a 3-0-1 record. The Houston Dash are 2-1-2. Each team has netted six goals, most in the league. With a win not only will the Houston Dash knock Washington from the ranks of the unbeaten but will claim their spot at the top of the NWSL standings.
Houston enters the Maryland SoccerPlex intent on continuing a season of firsts. Houston opened the season defeating the Chicago Red Stars,a team they had never beaten. Last week they took down FC Kansas CIty, a team they had never beaten on the road. This week they look to continue that trend against the Spirit. Houston is 1-4-1 in six all-time meetings with Washington but has never prevailed on the pitch in Boyd’s, Maryland.
“Getting that win last week was another good confidence boost to beat the defending champions at their place because we hadn’t done that,” said Houston Dash head coach Randy Waldrum in an exclusive interview with Orange in the Oven. “We hadn’t beaten Chicago before this year so we are getting a lot of firsts and they are realizing that we can do this.”
The biggest challenge for Washington will be containing the diversity of scoring that Houston presents. Much of that challenge will fall to rookie goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. The Canadian international has posted three clean sheets in her first four career starts for the Spirit. Saturday night’s game will be the first time she faced a scoring punch like Houston’s. Rookie Rachel Daly scored in her first professional match and provided an assist earning NWSL Player of the Week honors in her first week in professional soccer. Since then she has recorded two more assists tied for second most in the league. Chioma Ubogagu scored and provided an assist in her first start for the Dash last week in Kansas City earning her NWSL Player of the Week honors. Irish international Denise O’Sullivan scored off the bench in just her second match with the club. Janine Beckie, another rookie forward has found the back of the net while c0-captain and 2015 team MVP Kealia Ohai has facilitated much of the offense.Throw in two more goals by the midfield and Houston has proven, it can score from anywhere on the pitch.
The Spirit are not at the top of the standings by default. The home side has Dana Matheson and Crystal Dunn. Matheson, the Canadian international, is tied for the 2016 scoring lead with three while Dunn is tied with Houston’s Rachel Daly for the second most assists in 2016. Between the two they have helped Washington begin the season unbeaten through four matches. The duo present another challenge for Houston’s growing a backline, a backline that saw the debut of rookie Cari Roccaro last week.
“I would like us to get our goals against under one. I have been pretty impressed considering that we converted (Rebecca) Moros to a center back and we haven’t had Cari (Roccaro). Poliana has been a great addition. She’s one of the best outside backs in the league in my opinion from what she’s doing. We know what Chappie (Alyssa Chapman) brings to the table with her tenacity and toughness,” continued Waldrum.
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Saturday will be another test for the Huston Dash. A positive result is expected unlike the previous two years when the team was looking to be competitive and hoping they could get points. How will the team respond? If the first four games are any indication, the Washington Spirit better not be looking past this squad or they may have company at the top of the NWSL standings when all is said and done.