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Dash look to continue memorable run to NWSL Challenge Cup final

The Dash take on the Thorns, one win away from an appearance in the final.

Utah Royals FC v Houston Dash Getty Images

The addictive abrupt joy of a tournament bracket is, in many ways, any sport at its purest form. The basic ultimatum of sport, that there must be a winner and there must be a loser, is turbo charged into a few matches rather than across a mazy season. Opinions are seized in days rather than months. Everything feels more intense.

For many years cinema was lauded as the highest form of film making but more bite sized television streaming has become a vanguard for nearly a decade. Short stories are still perhaps a gateway for great novelists rather than the medium that represents their peak. Is the football tournament greater than the football season?

I do not believe there is a correct answer. Like all great storytelling, football is about the context. You only have to look at the scenes in Liverpool over the past fortnight to observe what winning a league season campaign means to those fans when compared with winning a European knockout tournament. The US Open Cup has a cult appeal, especially due to its history and inclusion of USL sides, but I wonder how many fans devour those matches with more hunger than late season MLS matches.

We’ll never know what the outcome for the Dash would have been in the trial of a regular NWSL season. Whether their gritty displays and new recruits could have conjured the same outcome over six months. What we do know, is that we have today.

90 more minutes and the most important match in Dash history. The anticipation, the hope and the “what ifs”. Relish seeing these players at least one more time, because they have given their all. The performance levels have varied but the effort has been outstanding. The goals, against the Reign in particular, are why we watch the sport. To leap uncontrollably out of our seats as if we were put under a spell.

So today, just enjoy it. That’s all I ask. Houston will forever be proud of this short burst. After all, this season, it may be all we have. Dash On.

When: Houston Dash play the Portland Thorns Wednesday July 22nd at 11:30 AM CT

Where: Stream on CBS All Access in the US/Canada or free on Twitch Worldwide

Line Ups:

Coach James Clarkson confirmed that Megan Oyster is day to day after fracturing a rib. It sounds like she will be a game time decision. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to start her and then took her off the minute she felt uncomfortable. With 5 subs available there isn’t too much risk in doing this. Ally Prisock will most likely be her replacement.

Nichelle Prince and Bri Visalli were the two standout outfield players in the quarterfinal, but the wide roles have been the area that Clarkson likes to experiment the most. I could see him throwing Veronica Latsko on either wing as a change of tact. Clarkson also announced that Katie Stengel will be in the playing squad.

Portland’s injury list expands with every match. Star players Lindsey Horan and Megan Klingenburg will both be game time decisions as they struggle with hip injuries. They have already lost their first and second choice goalkeepers, their starting right back, their World Cup winning center back and their first round draft pick. Mark Parsons should have them line up in a 4-3-3.

Form: The Dash have gone 335 minutes without scoring a goal. Excluding the penalty shootout, not since “Air Groom” have the team found the back of the net. Of the teams remaining, only the Chicago Red Stars (38) have taken less shots than the Houston Dash (41).

The Portland Thorns were the only side to not win a game in the preliminary round. However they turned things around to become the only team to score a goal and win in normal time in the quarterfinals, beating tournament favorites the North Carolina Courage 1-0. The Thorns lead the NWSL in clean sheets (4), and they have not conceded a goal since their opening match, a 2-1 loss against the Courage.

Magic Number: 503

Katie Naughton leads the NWSL in minutes played with 503. She has not missed a second of the Dash’s rise to the semifinals. Iron woman.