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Dash Progress Report: Carli Lloyd’s return will mark Houston’s legitimacy as playoff contenders

Carli Lloyd led the USWNT to the top, but can she do the same for the Houston Dash?

Harry How/Getty Images

A post-World Cup buzz can be felt throughout the NWSL. Ticket sales have steadily increased, new fans have sparked interest in the league and a recently inked TV contract with Fox Sports will air seven regular season matches and three games of the NWSL playoffs (The Dash will appear on July 29 and August 7 on Fox Go and Fox Sports 1 on August 29).

To add to the excitement Houston awaits the return of World Cup champion, Golden Ball winner and newly minted American hero Carli Lloyd, along with five other stars who fielded a World Cup roster.

With high expectations entering the season its been an adequate year so far. Eleven games in, Jessica McDonald has emerged as the team's unsung hero. McDonald leads the team in goals (5) and while she may remain on the outside looking in for league MVP honors, she's certainly been the difference for the Dash. At this point a season ago, Houston possessed an anemic offense that struggled to convert chances. Head coach Randy Waldrum and General Manager Brian Ching's offseason roster reinvention with acquisitions McDonald and Melissa Henderson to pair up-front with Kealia Ohai have brought the Dash a well needed offensive boost.

Nothing's come easy with the World Cup plopped in the early half of the season schedule, but the same could be said for every NWSL side. With a host of key players pulled away by the World Cup: Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Meghan Klingenberg, Erin McLeod, Allysha Chapman and Lauren Sesselmann, the club has accumulated a 2-2-3 record since April's send-off match.

Houston currently sit in sixth-place, four points out of the final playoff position held by FC Kansas City but with a game in hand. At the halfway point of the season, Sunday's match against the first-place Chicago Red Stars creeps into make-or-break waters with serious playoff implications for the Dash.

Which begs the question, could there possibly be a better moment for Lloyd's return?