Despite a defeat, Houston Dash make an indelible first impression against NWSL champions

In front of a sellout crowd, the Dash showed the city and the league what's in store

Scorelines matter, but what happened after the final whistle on Saturday night felt as important as the action that came before. Long after the end of the Houston Dash’s first match, the players were still on the field, signing autographs and taking photographs with hundreds of fans who had stayed behind to meet them.

Four months to the day after BBVA Compass Stadium held the official announcement that Houston would be the location of the National Women’s Soccer League’s first expansion franchise, the arena hosted the brand-new team’s inaugural match. 

That the visiting Portland Thorns FC secured a 1-0 victory hardly seemed too significant; both on and off the field this was a promising start for the Dash, who are aiming to form a deep bond with the community as well as soar in the standings. 

The players were lively and the fans were loud. Goalkeeper and captain Erin McLeod took to the mic after the coin toss with a rallying cry, urging the crowd to get behind their side. They did not need a second invitation, creating a buoyant atmosphere that fed off the chances and feisty challenges during an entertaining, hard-fought match.

The stadium’s capacity for Dash fixtures will normally be restricted to 7,000 but demand for this event prompted the club to open part of the upper bowl. The attendance was 8,097—almost double the average regular season figure league-wide in 2013.

“You have a crowd like this, a community coming out to support them, this is what it’s all about,” said NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey, who was at the match. “You can see these players have stayed afterwards, signing autographs, making sure that the girls who come have a great experience.”

Without several of their stars, including Alex Morgan, the Thorns could still boast the likes of Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer—the 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year—and prolific Canada striker Christine Sinclair. Yet an inexperienced and under-strength Dash side dominated for long periods and might easily have claimed at least a tie against the reigning NWSL champions.

“I think the performance was exactly what we’d hoped for, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t come away with a point to be honest, I felt we were good enough to get a point out of it if not three. Erin came up big on a couple of saves but I thought our chances were every bit as good as theirs and I thought overall we were the better team on the night,” said Dash head coach Randy Waldrum.

“For the first game, playing the defending champions and with such a young team out there I’m extremely proud of the effort.”

As part of the pre-match festivities, Houston mayor—and Dash season-ticket holder—Annise Parker presented Dynamo and Dash president Chris Canetti with a framed proclamation declaring Saturday to be Dash Day. Dynamo captain Brad Davis, who missed the game away to the New England Revolution earlier in the day because of injury, took part in the ceremonial first goal.

Dash midfielder Jordan Jackson had a couple of early opportunities to score for real but could not find the target. Houston began brightly yet played a large part of the first fifteen minutes with ten women, as first Brittany Bock then Kealia Ohai were hurt and needed treatment on the sidelines. 

Both returned, but Bock’s left knee sprain forced her off for good after a few minutes. Moments after she was replaced by Mexico international Teresa Noyola, Portland took the lead midway through the half as a long throw was headed into the far corner by Allie Long.

Ohai was ultimately unable to shake off her injury and was withdrawn for Lindsay Elston with 58 minutes gone as the Dash pushed for an equalizer. Portland stepped up their level after the interval and were a greater threat.

Still, the home team never lost heart and with less than 15 minutes left the Dash fashioned their best chance of the match. Noyola floated a superb high ball from the left over the defense to Stephanie Ochs, but she blasted over the bar from eight yards.

Substitute Tiffany McCarty looked set to score from close range in the 89th minute but the Thorns defense scrambled the ball out for a corner. Shortly afterwards an Elston shot from the edge of the area was palmed away by Angerer.

Then came the dramatic conclusion that had the fans on their feet. The impressive center back Osinachi Ohale headed a free kick towards goal and Becky Edwards forced the ball into the net. However, the midfielder was ruled offside, denying her a piece of Dash history against her former club.

  • REPLAY: Watch the match on CSN Houston, Sunday at 8 p.m. CT

Still, for a second or two, until the referee’s verdict became clear, we got to hear what a roar for a Dash goal sounds like. Mind your eardrums. “When I chased a ball [earlier in the match] and it was offside, I couldn’t hear that it was offside because it was so loud. I think that’s incredible,” said forward Ella Masar.

“The atmosphere was amazing—to walk out and see it packed, the fans loud and engaged and cheering till the last minute, they were with us the whole time,” said defender Nikki Washington. “It’s one of the best places to play in the world, already.”

The Dash next travel to face the Boston Breakers and Seattle Reign FC, returning to BBVA Compass Stadium on May 3 to meet FC Kansas City. Waldrum trusts this curtain-raiser has whetted supporters’ appetites. 

“I hope we gave the fans what they’re looking for. We promised to try and have an exciting team and I think we brought that tonight,” he said. “We need the fans to come back, they’re an extra player that we need and I hope they all saw enough that they’ll buy season tickets and get on back here because we’re going to need them every home game.”

The assistant referee’s flag denied the Dash a dream ending. Still, all in all—and only 121 days into the club’s existence—Saturday night was a fine start.

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.