Randy Waldrum’s smile beamed as bright as the lights at BBVA Compass Stadium when he thought about it: on Friday night, when the Dash host the Washington Spirit in the first game of the 2015 NWSL season (7.30 p.m. CT; TICKETS), he gets to write the names “Carli Lloyd” and “Morgan Brian” on the teamsheet.
The two new Dash members are national team regulars who figure to have important roles to play in this summer’s World Cup, along with another key cog, returning Dash and USWNT defender Meghan Klingenberg.
They’re both midfielders, but from different generations: Lloyd an all-time great, a 32-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist with 192 caps and 63 goals, a record goal haul for the position. Brian is 22, a rising star still to make her professional club debut yet already with 26 senior national appearances.
Both are sure to be a huge part of the Dash’s push for the playoffs as their second NWSL campaign gets underway on Friday. Waldrum grew excited just watching his three U.S. national teamers — just arrived from international duty — training on Wednesday and seeing their quality. “How much it changes us, just with those two in midfield and then Kling, what she adds to the back,” Waldrum reflected. He told himself: “Yeah, this is going to be good.”
The Dash traded for Lloyd in the offseason, acquiring her from Western New York Flash, where she scored eight times in 19 NWSL starts. She has been a fixture in the U.S. lineup this year and matched a career high with 15 goals in 23 starts in 2014, leading the team in minutes played and twice captaining the side.
“I think she’s one of the best in the world right now even at her age of 32, I think she’s still playing at a very high level and I think if you went around the world and asked coaches she would be in the conversation still of the top midfielders in the world right now,” Waldrum said.
Brian, the number one overall pick in the 2015 NWSL College Draft, is delighted to be playing alongside Lloyd for both club and country. “We’ve been playing together now for two years on the national team in the middle of the park so I know her pretty well, her tendencies, so for me it’s been really good to have her here,” she said during Dash Media Day at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“I think she’s been a mentor for sure to me. There’s been a couple of times in the past few years that I’ve been with the national team that it’s very difficult for younger players to come in and deal with the mental part of the game and I think that’s something that people don’t really understand until you get there, there’s a lot of ups and downs and she’s helped me with that.
“I can think of one time in particular where I was struggling and she helped me through that time, she told me that she’s used to it, you have to go through these times and to play well at a high level it’s going to happen and you just have to ride them. She’s helped a lot with that.”
Lloyd embraces the responsibility of a leadership role. “It’s great to be able to play with Morgan at this level as well. I think she’s continuing to grow as a player and person. My number one job is to be a leader and be a role model. I hope that the way that I approach things, the way that I train, that I take care of myself off the field is that role model/leader type thing for some of the younger players. I pride myself in that. I know that Morgan does those things and it’ll be good to play with her in the midfield,” she said.
Lloyd believes Brian, a standout at the University of Virginia, has the potential to have a stellar career. “There’s a lot of factors. I think that the mind is everything, being able to play at a professional level consistently is key and you see some people fade out, you see some people take it and run with it. I think Morgan’s in a good position. She’s been at this level, she’s been in major tournaments, doing well, so I think that as long as she stays focused and healthy she’ll have a good career for sure,” she said.
Friday’s opener is the only chance for Dash fans to see Brian, Lloyd and Klingenberg at BBVA Compass Stadium before the World Cup, which starts on June 6. Houston’s next two fixtures are on the road, then the trio heads off on international duty. Lloyd believes that though her initial time in Houston will be fleeting, competitive match action will be useful preparation for the summer’s tournament in Canada.
“Coming here, playing for Houston, it’s a great organization, Randy’s a great coach, great guy, and I knew I’d get three quality games in before the World Cup,” she said. “You can train all you want, run all you want, but being able to get three 90-minute games in is a good decision. I’ll figure out after the World Cup where I’m going to live and all that, but it’s not for that long, so bust it out and make the most of it.”
The World Cup interruption means Waldrum will have to shuffle his lineup during the season, and he said the roster is still a work in progress, especially in defense. But he is confident that a retooled midfield will help create chances for an attack that now includes Stephanie Roche and Jessica McDonald along with returning forwards Kealia Ohai, Tiffany McCarty, Melissa Henderson and the versatile Ella Masar.
Preparing for her second year with the Dash, Klingenberg — who scored a spectacular goal against New Zealand on Sunday — believes the roster is stronger. “I think the team will be better than last year,” she said. “The roster does have more experience, it does have more depth. Now it’s about finding who’s good in what position and what talents they bring, to make sure we’re getting the best of every single person on the field.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.