The Houston Dash return home to PNC Stadium tonight, knowing a win against OL Reign will clinch a spot in the NWSL playoffs. The Dash are coming off a big 1-0 win last weekend on the road against the Chicago Red Stars. OL Reign played in the midweek, beating NJ/NY Gotham 1-0 on Wednesday night. Houston won the first meeting between the two teams, 2-1 on August 7, the Dash’s first ever win in Seattle. This is the last match that OL Reign have lost, with the Washington club currently on a five match unbeaten streak.
Houston’s leading goal scorer Ebony Salmon will not play in tonight’s match because of COVID protocol. Salmon has 9 goals in her 11 matches for the Dash and will be a big loss in the lineup. Who takes Salmon’s place? There are a number of options. Valerie Gauvin could slot in as the number nine. The Frenchwoman has not played a lot since her move to Houston so it might be unlikely for her to start and play 60-70 minutes. Michelle Alozie could come in and get a start in the middle of Maria Sanchez and Nichelle Prince. Prince could even play centrally again, like she did in Chicago, in a false nine role. The Dash will miss Salmon’s goal scoring ability but interim head coach Juan Carlos Amorós does have some options to help fill the void.
The race for the NWSL playoffs is so close. Houston’s win in Chicago last weekend was big but the Dash aren’t there just yet. A win tonight would put the team in the postseason for the first time ever. The Dash have been close before but have come up short when it mattered most. Is this year’s team feeling the pressure? “In my experience, there is no point to play the occasion you need to play the game,” Juan Carlos Amorós said this week. “That’s very important. None of those feelings that we have now are going to be helping us to win the game. We’re going to help us to win the game. What we do on the pitch and know how to behave how to execute the game plan and what’s our roles and responsibilities in every situation. We need to make sure that’s good but obviously is what we want it to be when I got here. When the season started, probably a lot of you —I heard in the media like probably nobody believed that Houston Dash would be as good as they are. I believed so from the distance that people that are here believe so, the staff, the players and it is just brilliantthat we have this opportunity. It’s exciting to come into work, see the people’s faces, the smiles, the players competing to get into that position and staff pushing forward the club’s really backing up the team to make sure that everything goes as well as it can be on Saturday. I always say to the staff, that if everyone does their job good off the pitch, we are one-nil up. With the city, pushing behind us, we can make it happen on Saturday win the game and confirmed our place in the playoffs.”
Time for the fans to bring it
Tonight is the last regular season home game for the Dash. The fans have been great this season, rallying behind a team that keeps winning and defying the odds. But, the team needs you again. The club has opened tickets in the second deck in some sections and are expecting a big crowd. Now it’s time to show up and bring it. “I hope that people show up and come out and support us,” forward Nichelle Prince told the media on Thursday. “This has been such an exciting year, I think we’ve put on a really good show at home and gotten some great results, scored some amazing goals. I hope that the fans have seen that in these past games and this past season. I hope they understand how important they are to us, and how we really do need them the Saturday because it‘s a big game, and to have that home field advantage with your fans on your side, yelling at the refs and cheering for us on big plays. That’s so important to these types of games. So I hope that people show up, and then it’s a great environment to play in on Saturday.”
Houston Dash - Out: Annika Schmidt (right knee - season-ending injury), Kelcie Hedge (right knee - season-ending injury), Makamae Gomera-Stevens (left knee - season-ending injury), Ella Dederick (right knee), Ebony Salmon (COVID protocol)
OL Reign – Out: Angelina (season-ending injury - right knee), Tobin Heath (season-ending injury - left knee), Sinclaire Miramontez (season-ending injury - right foot), Jodi Ulkekul (season-ending injury - right knee)