In 1962, John Steinbeck traveled across the United States of America by car with only his poodle for company. When roaming Texas he wrote, “Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America”. These words resonate with this current Houston Dash side. Texas’ own NWSL Challenge Cup finalists.
It’s easy to forget that while the Dash represent the city of Houston their roster is in short supply of native Texans. Lindsey Harris is the exception. Houston born, Austin raised, the Dash back up goalkeeper is unapologetically Texan and a huge part of the fearsome team culture that has propelled the Dash to a historic Challenge Cup final.
Being the only Texan currently with the squad, Harris has dutifully assumed the role of motivator for the rest of her teammates, “I feel a huge sense of pride,” she says to me over the phone from Utah. “I feel the pressure, the need to show them how great Texas is. When I go out there I’m playing for everyone back in Austin who helped me get to this point. My coaches, my friends. Everyone who saw me and helped me”. Her personal Texas inspiration does not stop there, “I feel it’s important for me to show the team all the great things in Texas, you know...like Buc-ee’s.”
Making an impact on her captain didn’t take long. Whereas back in her UNC days she was known as “jedi” for her miraculous shot stopping ability; it was during the Dash’s very first session of the pre-season that she was given the moniker “mad dog” by captain Rachel Daly. “It was my first time playing with the team. I was just trying to show up. I had some really high energy. I was all over the place. Tripping over myself. Rach said the name fitted me.”
Daly even credited her semi-final winning header to a fist pump that she shared with Harris in their final training session before the match with Portland. “We were just saying good job. But that one, you could feel the energy flowing through our arms. They caught it on camera so it must have been special.”
The Dash’s inclusiveness has galvanized the group as a whole. Every obstacle they overcome, they overcome together. Daly’s passionate post match huddles emphasizing the importance of the unit as a whole. This has clearly had an affect on Harris. “It doesn’t matter how many minutes you play. Everyone has to buy into this and help each other out. There’s no hierarchy on the team. We’re making everyone know the Dash name. This is the circle we’re talking about.”
Whilst some players could have lost focus while they are not playing, Harris has thrived in Utah. “Instead of being upset about not being on the field, it’s important for me to support everyone and keep the energy high.” As the Dash has kept players included and involved, those players on the periphery have stepped up when needed. “The players need the energy from the sidelines. If it is flat all around, then there’s nothing for them to feed off of. It’s on us to keep the energy up.”
Harris has become a cult figure over the course of the Challenge Cup. Instagram is awash with her teammates shouting out her handle “@hooplasquad”, praising her eccentric charm and unwavering commitment to keeping the group spirits high. Why the name? “I like to be anything but boring. I didn’t want to be @LindseyHarris. I’m a whole lot of hoopla. A whole lot of nonsense, in a good way.”
In a season unlike any other, players with Harris’ approach have become integral. The eventual champion has not only battled seven other teams, but the emotional weight of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the black lives matter uprisings. The Dash staff have not shied away from this, openly encouraging their players to engage with these issues. “We have moments where we focus on dealing with a situation. We have discussions and open dialogues about what is going on in the outside world. We allot time to read stuff about everything that’s going on.”
The world has kept moving. The tournament, to the NWSL’s credit, has taken place seamlessly without any health scares. Voices have been amplified and we await further conversation on how change across the nation will come. For Harris and the Dash, their focus has to shift back to football. “Once we make our statements, there’s a time on the day of the game where we take our phones away. Then we’re locked into the game. As a team we’ve done a good job of recognizing those moments. We want to deal with the issues of the world and then deal with the game.”
This connection between teammates, this idea of the unbroken circle, goes even further. Beyond just the group in Utah. “There may be an inner circle here, but there’s an even bigger circle with all the supporters in Houston and around the world.” Harris was unequivocal on this point, addressing the Dash fans directly. “We see you. We read all the support that you’ve been giving us. We talk about it all the time. Those supporting us are very much a part of our circle.”
In Steinbeck’s opinion Texas isn’t a state, it is “a state of mind”. Maybe, the Dash are too.