First class: Houston Dash midfielder Kaylyn Kyle praises organization after first training session
On April 20, Kaylyn Kyle was trying her best to beat the Houston Dash. Little more than a week later, her adversaries that day became her teammates.
The Dash announced the signing of the Canada national team veteran on Tuesday via a trade with the Boston Breakers that sent defender Nikki Washington to New England. Kyle goes straight into contention to start for the Dash against FC Kansas City on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium in the second NWSL home game in franchise history (7 p.m. CT, TICKETS).
Dash head coach Randy Waldrum was pleased to see the influential midfielder exit the field when she was substituted by the Breakers after 65 minutes. With Kyle a spectator the Dash carved through Boston's midfield and scored two late goals, rallying for a 3-2 victory. "She was on our scouting report as one of their key players," Waldrum told reporters on Wednesday at Houston Sports Park.
Now he is delighted to have her on the pitch in Dash colors and ready to play a major role for her new team. "There's players around the league that you always look at, saying 'if that player was to ever become available we'd certainly have an interest.' And she was from day one somebody that we'd always thought about, I just didn't know that we'd have that opportunity to do it," he said.
Waldrum is sad to lose Washington but knew that bringing the 25-year-old to Texas was a chance to add an experienced, high-caliber performer to the midfield, helping to fill the hole caused by the season-ending knee injury suffered by Brittany Bock in the opening-day defeat to Portland Thorns FC.
Washington had started each of the Dash's three NWSL matches at left back, but the defensive ranks will be bolstered in a few weeks when USWNT players Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg join up following the UEFA Women's Champions League final with Swedish club Tyresö FF on May 22.
"It's always hard to make a trade, especially when it's somebody that you get attached to. Nikki being a Dallas kid I've known her for a long time, way before her [college] days, so it's really hard to make that trade when you lose somebody of her quality," said Waldrum.
"At the same time, in building the team in knowing what our needs were, with Brittany going down with an injury we had to shore that midfield up. The players we've had in there we're happy with, but they're young and they don't quite have that international experience so we just felt like it was a move we needed to make, to make our team better.
The club also announced another signing on Wednesday, with prolific Austrian international forward Nina Burger set to join from SV Neulengbach pending receipt of her visa and international transfer certificate.
From Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Kyle has five goals in 79 appearances for Canada and was a bronze medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, as well as starting all three of her nation's fixtures at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. She spent last season with Seattle Reign FC, who beat the Dash 2-0 last Sunday.
Waldrum expects Kyle to be a vital cog as he attempts to improve the team's passing, poise in possession and transition from defense to attack. "She's not exactly like Brit but she's similar with her tenacity and physical presence in there. She's got a toughness that I think she can bring some bite in there, but the thing that I think she does really well for us, with her international experience she's just really composed with the ball," he said.
"You can play to her with people around her and she can solve that puzzle … she also can really stretch the field with her passing range, that's something that you need out of a deep-lying midfield player. I just think she brings back what we lost with Brittany."
Kyle only arrived in Houston on Tuesday afternoon, plunging straight from the airport into rush-hour traffic. But she looked sharp the following morning in her first practice session and said afterwards that the facilities at Houston Sports Park had made an instant impression.
"I'm excited to be here. The club, it's just amazing, so professionally run, they really treat you like a professional athlete. And then having my first training session with the team today, it's fun, the girls are exciting and we have a really good squad here," she told reporters.
"With MLS here they obviously know how to run a soccer franchise. I know a bunch of people in MLS that have said nothing but positive things about this environment, the organization, so for me it was a no-brainer, when they said 'Houston' I was pumped to get on the flight and come here and help the team."
Kyle also likes the Dash's team chemistry and tactics. "They're just a fighting team, they have each others' backs, you can see that on the field and they work well together," she said. "Even watching the Seattle game this weekend they wanted to play, they were down a goal and they were still trying to play while a lot of teams would have just bombed on with long balls and tried to get in behind, and so I really liked that. It's the style of soccer that I love to play, keeping the ball and moving it and kind of playing that tiki-taka style."
Kyle has a positive, seize-the-day mentality that seems partly formed out of a near-fatal accident that happened 18 years ago, when she was knocked off her bicycle on the way to a park and suffered serious injuries including a shattered pelvis. She spent about a month in hospital and said that wearing a helmet likely saved her life.
"People take life for granted a little bit sometimes, I think with sport there is so many ups and downs and a lot of battles both on and off the field that people deal with. I just think it's pretty cool to be doing what we're doing. I just look at how many girls would love to be in our situation and for me to be living my dream," she said. "Every day I'm thankful to do something that I love."
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.