2017 NWSL season review: Houston Dash
The Houston Dash experienced quite a few changes this season. | Source: Trask Smith

The Houston Dash’s fourth season in the NWSL was quite a roller coaster ride. For a club that seemed to have gained confidence and may have possibly started to find its footing with the positives from 2016, they were once again all over the place as the season went on. Injuries, waives, trades, coaching changes - the Houston Dash saw it all within the span of one season this year, but despite all the hardships one thing you cannot take away from the Dash is their “Not Dead Can’t Quit” mentality.

Ups, downs, and everything in between

Going into 2017, the Houston Dash were ready to finally make their first playoff appearance in organization history. It seemed like things were beginning to fall into place for the Dash: core returning group, the right chemistry, and a bit of stability under them. They opened their 2017 with a thrilling 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars, including a rocket of a goal from Rachel Daly and one from Captain Kealia Ohai, continuing right where she left off last season with her 11 goals. Unfortunately, the Dash wouldn’t be riding high for long, as the following weekend - rookie goalkeeper Jane Campbell’s debut no less - they fell 5-1 to the Seattle Reign. Once again, the Dash of old seemed to be making a return: the ones who struggled to get through a season.

From there the Dash went on a losing streak for a series of games, including a loss to the Chicago Red Stars, who they previously shutout. Then, two days after the Dash’s 2-0 loss to the Reign at home in late May, head coach Randy Waldrum parted ways with the organization and assistant Omar Morales stepped in as interim. Waldrum had been with the organization since their start in 2014. His departure did not immediately show a miraculous turnaround, the Dash continued to struggle in their next couple of games, including a 4-2 loss to the Orlando Pride at home. During this time forward Melissa Henderson announced retirement.

Omar Morales stepped in as interim head coach for the 2017 season. | Source: Trask Smith

Things would turn around the following weekend - for the better and potentially, for the worse. After an 8 game losing streak and a bitter loss still on the forefront of their minds, the Dash headed to Orlando in a rematch against the Pride. Although they came away with the 2-0 result, they lost one of their key players in Kealia Ohai, who suffered an ACL injury during the match. Despite losing one of their core players, the Dash went on a six game unbeaten streak. Players like Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian were in and out due to injury and national team duties, but the Dash remained strong. In the middle of it all, the Houston Dash waived forward Denise O’Sullivan. It was the Portland Thorns who snapped Houston’s unbeaten streak with a 2-1 victory at Providence Park. The Dash were still able to remain in the playoff race, but there were quite a few changes along the way.

By the end of August, the Dash signed Kelly Conheeney to their roster, traded Morgan Brian for Kristie Mewis, and traded away Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams. Jane Campbell solidified her starting spot in goal for Houston, and Bianca Henninger returned as their second keeper. Mewis was quick to make an impact for the Dash’s offense, linking up well with forward Rachel Daly. However, the new addition wasn’t enough for Houston’s playoff hopes. Their playoff hunt fell short, ending with a 1-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage. For the remainder of the season the Dash couldn’t win a game, ending 2017 with a 1-1 draw against FC Kansas City.

Biggest Win

The Houston Dash’s biggest win came at the end of June, when they beat the Pride 2-0. Ohai may have been injured, but Houston’s stars Carli Lloyd and Rachel Daly were able to step up to the plate and lead their team to victory. They not only snapped their losing streak, but went on an unbeaten streak for the next five games.

This result was just what the Dash needed as they faced plenty of struggles a quarter into season. Although her name was not listed as a goal-scorer, defender Poliana was a huge part of the win. She caused havoc up and down the wings, and if people weren’t already watching the Brazilian international, they certainly were after her performance in Orlando.

Biggest Defeat

Their biggest defeat comes as no surprise: the 1-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage. With the loss, they also lost their opportunity to sneak into this year’s playoffs. Despite rookie goalkeeper Jane Campbell’s best efforts, one goal made all the difference for this match. All of the “almost”s and “should have won”s finally caught up to the ever-struggling Houston Dash after this match. It was then that they wished they could have all those close games back.

Amber Brooks stepping up to put away a PK against the Chicago Red Stars. | Source: Trask Smith

Team MVP

The Houston Dash may have many big name players, but Amber Brooks definitely made a case for herself this season. She stepped into the leadership role almost effortlessly this year, especially when the Houston Dash needed it most.

After joining the club in 2016, Brooks has become one of the most solid players for the Dash. Although she started out at defensive midfield, she has become an anchor for the Houston backline, playing a key role in the team’s five shutouts - the most since 2015. She also played every minute of the season, only one of six NWSL players to do so this season.

Player with an off year

In last year’s season review, Cami Privett was named one of the team MVP. However, this year seemed to tell a different story for Privett. After tallying 1,059 minutes for the Dash in 2016, she only tallied 652 this year - starting in 7 of 13 of her appearances. Not to say she wasn’t impactful when she was on the field, but it seemed like a quieter performance for the midfielder-turned-defender. Hopefully, she returns in 2018 as versatile and confident as ever. If Privett is on her game and is able to make her mark on the field, the Dash could seriously look at a real post-season run in 2018.

Improvements for 2018

It may sound like a broken record now, but stability is one of the things the Houston Dash need most. Being able to build not only around the “star” players, but also the core players that now make up the Dash - Brooks, Daly, etc. - will be key. In addition, strengthening the midfield could really help the Dash out now. The addition of Kristie Mewis alone has been fantastic, but the Dash need more depth in the midfield if they want to control more of the game. Lastly, the return of Kealia Ohai will make the Dash a force to be reckoned with next season once she’s ready to go.

It seems like the Dash always have the potential to be a playoff team, but if everything goes accordingly then there’s a very high possibility we’ll see the Dash in the post season.