It’s been a busy offseason in Houston, with the arrival of a new head coach and some significant roster turnover. Given all that change, it may take some time for the real Dash to make themselves known. Still, even with everything that’s up in the air, there are a few clear themes, so let’s dig in and see what we find.
Head Coach: Vera Pauw
2017 record: 7-3-14 (24 points), eighth in the league
Projected Starting XI: You could probably ask 20 people to project Houston’s starting XI and get 25 answers, so there’s no point in pretending that there is a single obvious setup here. With that said, here’s one possible lineup:
Goalkeeper: Jane Campbell
Defenders: Rachel Daly, Amber Brooks, Janine Van Wyk, Cami Levin
Midfielders: Cari Roccaro, Kristie Mewis, Hailey Hanson
Forwards: Nichelle Prince, Savannah Jordan, Kealia Ohai
We’ve seen some signs that Rachel Daly might take on a permanent switch to fullback, which would make her the obvious choice for right back. If that doesn’t pan out, there aren’t a lot of other great options, but Lindsay Agnew is another possibility. At left back, Cami Levin might return, or it could be Lotta Ökvist. Or Agnew. Roccaro played some fullback last year and could swap over. Or any one of a half dozen forwards that likely won’t see much time in actual forward roles.
And you could make comments like this about almost every slot on the pitch. Apart from a few core names, there’s very little reason to think anything is locked down at this point.
Player you should know: Kealia Ohai tied for the Golden Boot in 2016, a performance that earned her a chance with the national team that fall. Unfortunately, an ACL tear took her out for the final two thirds of the entire 2017 season. If she can get back her form from the latter half of 2016, she might just have enough to keep the Houston offense afloat.
Under the radar: Amber Brooks is the rock at the heart of this team. The longtime midfielder made a midseason switch last year to center back and brought some crucial stability to a shaky backline. She’s an important team leader, and a big part of what makes the Dash tick.
Biggest offseason acquisition: The Dash acquired plenty of names this offseason, but by far the biggest was Christen Press. Unfortunately, it seems like all they actually acquired here was the name, since Press herself won’t be playing for them. The next-best choice on the list, then, is probably Savannah Jordan–who has yet to show anything professionally, but has all the potential in the world.
Biggest rival: Themselves.
Most memorable moment from 2017: There are a few candidates here, none of them great. There was the 5-1 shellacking by Seattle in the second game of the season, the firing of Randy Waldrum, the “home” match played five hours away in Edinburg, the heatstroke incident at the end of the 3 PM Lifetime start, and the ACL injury to the captain and star, Kealia Ohai. 2017 did have some good moments, of course, but the most memorable moments were unfortunately mostly negative.
Why they’re the team to watch in 2018: There isn’t another team in the league facing as many huge questions as the Dash. After a series of perplexing offseason moves, and after several years of malaise, will the Pauw regime finally shake off the dust and unleash the attacking potential of this team? Will they be able to emerge from the wreckage of the Press trade, and come together to build some team unity? Is it possible to convert half your roster from forward to defense in one season? If everything comes together, it will make for an incredible story. If it doesn’t, it will be an incredible trainwreck. Either way, there are plenty of huge storylines that deserve following.
Predicted finish: There’s a decent amount of talent on this roster, and if Pauw is able to get them all singing from the same hymnal, a strong finish is by no means implausible. But looking up and down the league, and then looking at the Houston roster, it’s hard to pick any team that you’d put money on the Dash outpacing. My heart says things will stick together and grit out some decent results–maybe even sticking around in the playoff hunt for most of the season. My head says they’ll start out slow and finish slower. I hope my head is wrong, but can’t in good conscience predict anything other than Ninth.
Success depends on: Cobbling together a sustainable defensive unit out of converted forwards and limited defenders. This is not a squad that looks likely to lock games down in the midfield, nor like a team ready to assemble a defensive wall capable of repulsing the superpowered attacks being developed around the league. But at the end of the day, building a stable backline depends as much on organization and commitment as it does on raw talent. If Pauw and her staff are able to get them working together, the team might be able to generate enough stability to unlock the powerful array of offensive weapons at their disposal.
Fun prediction: Rachel Daly’s conversion to fullback works well, and she becomes a regular in the England squad.