The Houston Dash arrive at the penultimate stage of their 2020 season with rejuvenated optimism ahead of them and unforgettable memories in the rear view mirror. This season has been historic by every measure. It will be remembered fondly on the pitch and memorialized somberly off it. One final evening at the BBVA awaits.
Having got one unwanted record off their back last week(a four year wait for a win without Rachel Daly), the Dash can still quash old norms by defeating the North Carolina Courage for the first time in their history on Sunday.
The Courage will travel to Houston to play their first match of the Fall Series away from North Carolina. Having opened the Autumn fixtures with the thrilling 4-3 victory over the Dash, the Courage then fell flat in front of goal against the Orlando Pride, playing out a 0-0 in game two.
Arguably the most spectacular attacking duo in the entire league - Debinha and Lynn Williams - will be the key tormentors for the Dash defense. Having run riot in the first match between these two sides, Houston will be determined to minimize the damage the second time round.
Katie Naughton, who was flawless in the 3-1 victory over the Pride a week ago, will have her work cut out against the Courage front two’s pace and skill. Where the Dash defender can command, is when the ball is whipped into the box. Naughton’s presence and aerial ability should dominate. Trying to keep the play in front of her or pushing it out wide, should help limit the danger. Allysha Chapman, correctly ejected after two rash challenges in the first meeting between these two sides, can return at left back after serving her suspension last week.
Going forward, Shea Groom had one of her best ever performances in a Dash shirt against the Courage three weeks ago. Groom’s ability to spring quick attacks suits playing against a high tempo side like North Carolina. The Courage’s deployment of a back three means a high press can be even more deadly when the ball is won back in transition. There is always space behind the Courage wing backs when they launch attacks.
Courage head coach, Paul Riley, will be without his first choice keeper, Stephanie Labbe, who has opted out of away matches during the NWSL Fall Series. Her replacement, Katelyn Rowland, is about as reliable a second choice keeper as any in the league. Still, expect Kristie Mewis to try her luck from distance early on.
When: Sunday 6PM CDT // BBVA Stadium, Houston, TX
Where to watch: TWITCH
Last meeting: Courage 4-3 Dash (9/12/20)
All time record: 0 - 8 - 1
Here’s three things to watch:
Hot Streak Schmidt
Sophie Schimdt didn’t have a single goal in her first 18 appearances for the Dash. But her ice cold penalty conversion in the Challenge Cup final has opened the floodgates. The Canadian holding midfielder heads into the contest against North Carolina with three goals in her previous three games. Her perceptive through ball, that set up Nichelle Prince against the Pride, meant she also logged her first assist of the season. Schimdt’s reputation as a primarily defensive piece in the Dash midfield is being contested by her awe-inspiring current run of form. Could Schmidt even make it back to back golden boot wins for Houston? She is currently one goal behind fellow countrywoman Christine Sinclair.
The brave Challenge Cup heroine - who played in the victorious final with a fractured rib - did not travel to North Carolina in matchday one and was an unused substitute against the Pride last week. Of the small number of fans admitted into BBVA, the most vocal portions are the friends and the family of the players. A heartwarming cacophony would ring out should Megan Oyster make her debut at her new home. The rite of passage would cap off an impressive first season for the defender, who like her trademate Shea Groom, has assimilated seamlessly into the culture of the team since arriving from Seattle. Nevertheless having extended her contract, Oyster will be a starter for the Dash come 2021.
Building The Play
I’m not holding my breath to see major changes to the Dash starting XI. Clarkson is yet to alter his formation or personnel to any significant degree at all this season. However, the Fall Series has seen a shift in the way the Dash possess the ball and build attacks. Per 90 minutes at the Challenge Cup, the Dash averaged 44% possession of the ball, 69% pass accuracy and 353 passes. So far in the Fall Series, per 90 minutes, they average 56% possession, 81% pass accuracy and 437 passes.
Jane Campbell has been seen to call in her defenders closer, allowing the Dash to build attacking moves from their own box without looking immediately for a long direct pass. Sophie Schimdt’s ability to connect the two lines of attack alongside Kristie Mewis’ exquisite vision to pick out players has been a signal of a less counter attacking Dash. The high tempo Courage, heading into the match with an extra week’s rest, will be sure to try and disrupt the Dash’s new found passing rhythm.