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Matchday Preview: Houston Dash vs Portland Thorns

Preview the inaugural match of the Houston Dash against NWSL champions Portland Thorns

Nikki Washington, formerly of the Thorns, will start this year for the Dash
Nikki Washington, formerly of the Thorns, will start this year for the Dash
Talley Johnson

Saturday, April 12th, is the very first inaugural game for the Houston Dash. Perhaps it is only appropriate that as the first expansion team to join the NWSL, the Dash play their first game against the reigning champions, the Portland Thorns. The Dash will face off against the Thorns at BBVA Compass Stadium at 7:00pm.

The Dash preseason gave the Houston fan base a good preview of the upcoming season. The team boasted a fine record, losing only to the Dynamo Academy. A parade of names flooded preliminary rosters as women tried their hand on the pitch. Throughout the preseason, fans of the new team watched eagerly as the list of trialists was narrowed. NWSL rosters were revealed this week with the Dash listing eighteen women out of a possible roster size of twenty. In addition to the names given by the team, trialists Domi Richadson, Lindsay Elston, Holly Hein and Osinachi Ohale are also due to be signed. Saturday, they will test their strength against the Thorns.

Portland Thorns are missing a few brambles, but are still dangerous

It is painfully obvious to state that Portland will be missing forward Alex Morgan. Morgan is a well-known star of the USWNT and scored eight goals for the Thorns in the 2013 season. She is currently resting an injury and has been making frequent trips to Houston to watch her fiancé, Houston Dynamo Servando Carrasco. Also absent from the 2013 roster are midfielders Nikki Washington and Becky Edwards, both of whom will be playing this season for Houston.

Portland can still prove to be quite the thorn in Houston’s side as Portland has more than one powerhouse forward. Canadian Christine Sinclair shared the team’s golden boot with 8 goals of her own last season. Sinclair was voted NWSL player of the month in April of 2013. Overall, the Thorns notched 32 goals last season.

Their defense is rock solid. Goalkeeper Karina Leblanc succumbed to only 23 goals throughout last season. In January, the Thorns traded Leblanc to Chicago Red Stars. Now, the team carries keeper Nadine Angerer, nominated for the Ballon d’Or award alongside prolific forward Abby Wambach and Brazilian Marta, who won FIFA Women’s Player of the Year 5 years running. Angerer will be a formidable opponent against any forward.

Portland finished the 2013 season ranked third in the NWSL with a 10-6-6 record. In the NWSL playoffs, the Thorns faced off against the shield winners, Western New York Flash. In a shutout win, they bested the Flash to become the first NWSL Champions.

Dash yet to fully test their defense

If the Dash are to win, it will come down to their defensive line. When the team came into being, head coach Randy Waldrum shaped the back line around the solid veterans Whitney Engen, Lauren Sesselmann, Meghan Klingenberg and Aya Sameshima but won't have any of them to start the season. Engen and Klingenberg will join the Dash when their season at Tyreso, for whom they are currently playing, is over. Those solid defensive plans had to be altered when Sesselmann and Sameshima were injured playing internationally.

In their place is Marissa Diggs, selected from the NWSL College Draft and Mexican international player Ari Romero. Alongside them are Nigerian Osinachi Ohale and Holly Hein as well as former University of Virginia standout Kika Toulouse. They are largely untested, but they have a veteran goalkeeper in the net behind them.

Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod was recently named captain of the Houston Dash for the 2014 season. McLeod was acquired from the Chicago Red Stars in return for allocated Canadian player Melissa Tancredi. McLeod held the NWSL teams at bay with four shutouts last year as Chicago finished sixth in the regular season.

Saturday will be a historic moment for the Houston Dash and the NWSL. The lower bowl of BBVA Compass Stadium is sold out for the event. Due to the high demand for tickets a small upper section of seats has been opened for the match . As I write this, there are still a limited amount of seats available. Those who are looking to attend should not delay.

After taking on the Thorns this Saturday Houston will face the Boston Breakers at Harvard Stadium on Sunday, April 20, at 5:30pm.