We can all agree that the Houston Dash didn’t quite have things go their way this off-season. They lost some great international players to trade, ended up being shunned by Christen Press, and had their owner make some rather unfathomable choices for the club. It went so horribly that the women’s soccer media and NWSL fanbase seemed to give up on analyzing the decisions and defaulted to just pitying them. Yeah, it was that bad. And it still isn’t great by any means. But going into this international break, Houston can repeat this point of pride to themselves: “We are currently an undefeated team.” Sure, it’s only two draws, but that’s not nothing.
Everyone is still looking at them like winning a match will be a miracle. Analysts are plopping them at the bottom of their power rankings. Old southern women are practically ‘blessing their hearts.’ But this isn’t necessarily rock bottom for the club. And they shouldn’t be written off so easily. To paraphrase Monty Python, they’re not dead yet! So although things are bad, there are still some bright spots for the team looking forward into the season. Here are five of them:
1. Jane Campbell Is A Boss
One of the biggest takeaways from the first two games of the season is that Jane Campbell is a phenomenal goalkeeper. She has played on a new level for the start of this season, and brought a lot of stability for the Houston side. As a last line of defense, Houston can at least feel comfortable in the fact that they have Campbell. She comes up big when they need it. She is confident. And she is finding her rhythm in Houston, a fact that I am sure allows Vera Pauw to breathe a little easier. While a good keeper alone isn’t enough to make you the best team in the league, it sure is a start. If she can continue this trend, other US keepers are going to need to watch their backs.
2. Daly & Mewis Bring Creativity
When Rachel Daly was moved to fullback, I was seriously wondering what Houston was doing, especially since Kealia Ohai was still out on injury. But there has been a certain level of magic created by the pairing of Daly and Kristie Mewis as Houston’s outside backs. They command the offense and set the pace for the team. They bring creativity up and down the pitch. And they are all over the field, aggressively going after the ball because they both have the speed to make it back on defense in time. The commentators of the Houston-Utah match called them two of the best in the league, provoking some snarky comments. But there’s something to it. Neither of them is a singularly phenomenal outside-back. But together—working as one unit, establishing a proper give and take for the team—they are a force to be reckoned with.
3. Pauw Has A Plan
It was clear from the first few games that Vera Pauw doesn’t particularly care what others may think of her team. She is coaching with purpose, and convincing her players to play with purpose. She understands that her team has weaknesses. She isn’t ignorant of that fact. But she is also able to see that this team has strengths. Every player brings a different skillset, and her job is to find how all those pieces fit. It’s still a work in progress, but one that she is working diligently at. She’s also been quite honest about where things stand, owning in her last post-match interview that her team wasn’t fully able to play to their strengths against Utah—that they still had some homework to do. But it looks as though Vera is willing to put in the work as long as the players are. No phoning it in from the Dutch leader.
4. The Return of Ohai
Houston hasn’t won a match yet this season. But they also haven’t had their greatest attacking threat on the pitch yet. Kealia Ohai, who is coming off of an injury, will be a welcomed sight. Although she only got to play 10 matches last season before tearing her ACL, in the 2016 season she recorded 11 goals and four assists in 20 matches. Even if her return to the pitch doesn’t immediately bring those kind of results, it will still be great news for the Dash, because even when Ohai isn’t on the ball, she is still going to pull the attention of defenders. That is something that Houston has been missing. With Ohai’s return, we’ll get a chance to see some new dynamics of the Houston team. They haven’t shown all of their cards just yet.
5. The Underestimation Factor
Everyone knows Houston is supposed to be bad this year. But in a funny way, that’s an advantage. When your opponents expect very little out of you, they tend to get complacent. And then they lose. Just ask the University of Virginia men’s basketball team—whose first game as the overall favorite in the NCAA March Madness Tournament against 16th seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County didn’t quite go to plan. When there isn’t a lot expected of you, opponents tend to sit back and allow things to happen. They allow the underdogs to set the pace—and then the underdogs have no choice but to seize opportunity when it comes. It is David and Goliath. It is the tortoise and the hare. It is USA vs Russia in the 1980 Olympics. Could it be Houston vs North Carolina or Portland? Maybe. The stage is surely set and primed to have it played out.
So in light of all this, I refuse to feel bad for Houston. And I will not do the team the disservice of pitying them. Instead I will root for them—to get better, to fight the good fight, to play to their strengths. Because this team isn’t a lost cause, and we should stop treating it like one. They have a lot of talent and a great coach in Vera Pauw to steer this team toward a season that could mean something for them. They have some positive aspects that they bring to the table. We need to stop only talking about the negative.