We may be in the off season for the NWSL, but that doesn't mean that things aren't still happening in the league. As the Houston Dash look toward their second season, the team has already made some big changes including almost completely changing their defensive line up.
The most noticeable factor in these changes is age of players. The Houston Dash were not only the youngest team in the league, but the average age of the roster was also one of the youngest in NWSL. Now that the team has completed their first season, Head Coach Randy Waldrum and staff have been making changes that quite obviously say "the more experience, the better."
The Houston Dash played their first season with at least 16 players that had connections to Waldrum during their time in college or with the USWNT U-23s. Sixteen players out of 22! There were pros and cons, clearly to this. Many of the players knew each other well and had played with one another. That can be a very important tool when building a new team. And in some regards, that greatly helped the Dash in their inaugural season.
However, the con that came with this was - to put it a tad bluntly - the lack of experience within the team. Many soccer players will say that there is a big difference between the collegiate level of play and the professional. Of course there is. Seasons are not the same length, practices are worked around class schedules and etc. Professional play is demanding in many other ways. Throw in the fact you're playing against the likes of Abbey Wambach, Carli Lloyd and others with tons of professional and international experience, and it can be quite daunting being thrown into professional soccer.
What the Dash did their first season wasn't a failure, but it wasn't quite the success they or fans had really hoped for. The most well-used comment about the Dash during the first season was "This team does not play like an expansion team." And they didn't. The team always played hard every match, even when the odds were stacked against them. However, there was always something that seemed to be missing. Times when the team just couldn't quite click together on the pitch. A bit of the puzzle Waldrum and the coaching staff couldn't quite put their collective finger on.
Looking at the changes that have been made to the roster in concerns to the midfield and the defense, it certainly seems the Dash are closing in on finding that puzzle piece - experience.
The young Dash team had their ups and downs last season, but they just could not get to the point of being a well-oiled machine. Bringing in players like Poliana in defense and Rosana and Carli Lloyd in the midfield could get the Dash to that point. Where last year, the defense and midfield struggled to link up, the experience of these veteran players could finally be the key Waldrum has been needing.
Lloyd is known for being a terror on defenses, weaving and cutting around them with ease to either take amazing shots herself, or pass off to forwards. Rosana has a similar reputation of being technical and deadly with her passing abilities. That is something that has been desperately lacking in the midfield for the Dash.
Successful teams are all about the right combination. In 2014, it always seemed as if the Dash were close to that. As they prep for 2015, Waldrum and the staff know that getting the right mix of players will be crucial for their success. Changes that have been made already promise to be fruitful for Houston. A stronger, more uniform defense; a quick, tactical midfield - both have been qualities the Dash have needed. With the experienced players brought in, combined with those already on the Houston roster, it looks as if that well-oiled machine is within reach for Waldrum.
Only time will tell; but think of this. If the Dash in 2014 were hailed for their performances with such a young, new team, imagine what could be with a team that not only has gutsy, youthful players, but players who have been through the runner - veterans that can calm and pull a team together. These changes could be exactly what is needed for the Dash to make a statement in 2015.