After a long and drama filled off season the Houston Dash will finally get back on the field this Sunday against the Chicago Red Stars.
Back at It
Led by new head coach Vera Pauw the Dash are seeking to make the playoffs for the first time since joining the NWSL in 2014. The team starts the season with a roster full of new faces, they have just nine players returning from last season.
Jane Campbell will likely spend the season as the number one goal keeper, but Bianca Henninger will find starting minutes when Campbell is away with the US Women’s National team. The backline will feature mostly familiar faces as Amber Brooks will continue to anchor the backline. Rachel Daly has been converted to a right back and will spend time defending goal instead of scoring them. Last year Daly was the team’s goal scoring leader with five goals. The Dash traded for forward Lindsey Agnew during the offseason, but since landing in Houston she has been converted to a defender.
Expected to start in the midfield are Kristie Mewis, Linda Motlhalo, and Meleana Shim. Motlhalo was signed by the Dash in February as a discovery player. The South African made her debut with the South Africa women’s national team in 2016 and has earned 14 caps and scored twice for the team.
Nicelle Prince, Savannah Jordan, and Veronica Latsko may be the pairing to start the game up top. In her rookie season Prince scored three goals for the Dash, tying her with Mewis for second most goals on the team in 2017. During the off season the Dash traded fan-favorite Andressinha to Portland for Jordan. The forward didn’t get much playing time in Portland, subbing on in two game during the 2017 season. Latsko, forward from the University of Virginia, was taken by the Dash in third round of the 2018 draft. She scored 26 goals and 14 assists during her collegiate career.
Sunday will be the first time that fan will get a good look at the team that Pauw has assembled while the Red Stars has remained largely unchanged.
The Red Stars have fifteen players returning from last year’s squad and many of the returning players have been with the club for multiple season. Danielle Colaprico, Sofia Huerta and Arin Gilliland have all been with the club since they were draft in 2015. In addition to Huerta, Chicago has USWNT players Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher and Casey Short returning.
The big addition for the team from the Windy City is forward Sam Kerr, the 2017 Golden Boot winner. Chicago acquired Kerr during ‘the’ three team trade of the off season that happened at the draft in January (more on that in a minute), but she will miss the game for national team duty with Australia. The trade that landed Kerr in Chicago also saw their top goal scorer, Christen Press, land in Houston.
The Red Stars looked strong in preseason, winning the Thorns Spring Invitational. They beat the Dash 1-0 during that tournament run. The biggest challenge for the Red Stars on Sunday is a long injury report that has five of the veteran players out of the game. The injuries will force the Red Stars to look to their bench to get it done on Opening Day. But even in going to the bench the Red Stars have options that have been with the team for multiple seasons. Nikki Stanton and Summer Green may be the only new players to start for the team on Sunday. In 2016 the Red Stars drafted Michele Vasconcelos but she took that season off to have her first child and now joins the team for the first time.
Houston has gotten the better of Chicago winning the last two opening day matches against the Red Stars. In spite of those opening day wins Chicago has been the overall winner with a 5-2-4 record against Houston.
Draft Day Drama
The Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars were part of a three team trade that saw Christen Press landing in Houston.
In January, the Dash traded the Chicago Red Stars for the number seven overall pick, an international roster slot and Christen Press. The Red Stars acquired the sixth, twenty fourth overall picks, Janine Beckie and Carli Lloyd. At the end of the three team trade the Chicago Red Stars had Sam Kerr, midfielder Nikki Stanton and the No. 15 and 24 draft picks while the Houston Dash had Christen Press, an international roster slot and the No. 7 draft pick. Sky Blue FC ended up with Carli Lloyd, Janine Beckie, Jen Hoy and the No. 6 and No. 13 draft picks.
At the time of the trade is was reported that the team has been in contact and that they had been assured that she wanted to play in Houston. Unfortunately, it turned out that Press didn’t want to play in Houston and the team may not have spoken to her prior to the trade.
On Christen Press’ decision not to play for the Houston Dash:— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) March 10, 2018
Source on player side tells me she was clear she didn’t want to play in Houston and if Houston believed she did, they were misled. Trade was a risk they took — there was no guarantee. #NWSL #USWNT
At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter who knew what surrounding the trade. The Dash will play the season without the star USWNT player they had spent the off season building around. The news of Press not coming to Houston broke only a few weeks ago leaving the Dash with little time to make changes to the roster before opening day. Houston will continue to hold Press’ rights in the league any other club would have to trade with Houston to be able to put her on their team. So for now, the Dash are left the right to a player who won’t play for them and the player is left unable to play in the league until those rights are traded to a team she wants to play for.
Starting the season off with an injury report
Both sides are starting the season off with players on the injury reports. Kyah Simon will be out with a right hamstring injury while Thembi Kgatlana has been excused from the game. Simon is listed as part of the 45-day disabled list.
Kealia Ohai has almost completely recovered from her torn ACL she suffered at the start of last season. While she has been participating in practice she isn’t expected to play in a game for a few more weeks.
The Red Stars have a much longer injury report to start the season. Casey Short, Vanessa DeBernardo, Julie Ertz, Yuki Nagasato, and Rosie White are all listed as out for the travelling team. White is out on the 45-day disabled list. Sam Kerr is out for International duty with Australia. All five players are top players in the league and their absences may present a challenge for the Red Stars.
Who: Houston Dynamo vs Chicago Red Stars
Where: BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, TX
When: Sunday, March 25 at 4 pm CT
Online viewing: NWSLsoccer.com, NWSL app and go90 app