The 2017 National Women’s Soccer League is officially under way, and the Houston Dash got off the ground running with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars.
Kealia Ohai got the party started at BBVA Compass Stadium with her first goal of the season early in the first half. English international Rachel Daly added the second goal with a curling shot late in the second half to secure the home win for the Dash.
Here are three takeaways from the Dash’s season-opening win.
1. Kealia Ohai continues where she left off in 2016
2016 was Ohai’s best professional year to date. The Dash forward scored a career-best 11 goals and received a call up to USWNT.
Saturday afternoon, Ohai carried over her great form by notching her first goal of 2017. In the 15th minute, Ohai was able to slip behind the Red Stars defense after receiving a through pass from Amber Brooks.
“I just remember thinking ‘keep it low, keep it low’ and I scored,” Ohai said after the match. “I was happy to get the early goal.”
2. Chicago, welcome to The Oven
There’s a reason games usually aren’t scheduled in the afternoon at BBVA Compass Stadium – the heat. Although the temperature in Houston only got as high as 83°F on Saturday, the temperatures on the field got up to 90°.
“It was really hot,” Ohai said. “I think that that’s an advantage for us because we train in it every day, but’s it’s not like altitude where if you get used to it – it’s not easy for either team. I think at times the game was slow for both sides.”
For years, the Houston Dynamo were able to use the heat to their advantage against opposing teams, who would tire out after about the hour mark. Some teams would learn and pace themselves to be able to last the full 90.
The Red Stars made the mistake of coming out quick in the first half, dominating possession 56%-44% in the half. The second half was a different story, as the Dash – already up a goal – dominated a worn-out Red Stars side.
“I think once we got to the 70th minute mark, we couldn’t run anymore,” Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said. “We haven’t dealt with anything remotely close to this heat. We were chasing for a long time, and we couldn’t chase anymore.”
Daly’s goal in the 80th minute proved to be finishing blow to the Red Stars, according to Dames. “At that point, we’re not going to come back from 2-0 down when we can’t run because of the heat.”
3. Defensive miscues early
The Dash’s Achilles heel since its inception has been defense. Dynamo head coach Randy Waldrum addressed the issue in the offseason with the acquisition of World Cup and Olympic veterans Bruna Benites of Brazil and Janine van Wyk of South Africa.
Although the pair came battle-tested, the Red Stars tested them early and often. They deployed their dangerous attacking trio of Christen Press, Vanessa Di Bernardo, and Stephanie McCaffrey. Press routinely found space in the first half between the new center backs, but was never able to beat Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams. The ladies were better prepared in the second half.
After the match, Waldrum shrugged off any concerns about his new defensive duo in the middle. “I’m not concerned with [the van Wyk/ Bruna pairing] because it’s the first [time] we’ve seen it,” Waldrum said. “If you’ve played in a World Cup, if you’ve played in the Olympics, there’s not very many stages bigger. A regular season game here is not a bigger stage than that.
If those kinds of decisions continue through the season, then that would be a concern.”