Houston Dash look to ride momentum from previous performances to first points at home

Dash expect physical battle, says Erin McLeod, but "the team has fight"

It was a draw, but it felt like more. Buoyed by a late comeback, the Dash will aim to build on last Sunday’s result when they go for their first home win of the season on Friday night against the Chicago Red Stars.

Houston welcomes Chicago to BBVA Compass Stadium (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS) in confident mood after a late equalizer from Tiffany McCarty gave Randy Waldrum’s side a valuable road point against FC Kansas City, who had beaten them 4-0 only two weeks earlier.

“I think it was huge,” captain Erin McLeod told HoustonDashSoccer.com. “From a mental standpoint it was a tiny victory for us, especially because we made some early mistakes and we could have been easily 2-0 down in the first few minutes of the game. They missed one opportunity and put the next one away. 

“So I think there’s still a lot of things that we need to work on, but what I liked in the Boston game which was very similar, and we came back to win, is the team has fight. And if you have that you can work on the other details.”

There was disappointment on Thursday for Meghan Klingenberg and Whitney Engen, as the Dash and USWNT defenders ended their spell at Swedish club Tyresö FF with a 4-3 defeat to Wolfsburg in the UEFA Women's Champions League final in Portugal. But the good news for Houston is that the pair will soon head to Texas, and their arrival should lead to a greater sense of stability for a Dash roster that has been a constant work in progress.

“We’ve had changing personnel and that’s challenging, you can’t just show up and then everybody gels right away … I think once we start consistently having the same players in the starting lineup, or at least almost, I think you’ll see the results on the field,” McLeod said.

Waldrum is hopeful that the draw with Kansas City and the sound performance in last week’s 1-0 loss to the reigning NWSL champions, Portland Thorns FC, are harbingers of good times ahead—starting Friday.

“We lost to Portland but played well, I thought. Then to go on the road and get a point in the same week, especially against Kansas City; even though they’re not at the top of the table right now, just the way they play, they’re going to be there in the end, I think they’re one of the better teams in the league,” the head coach told HoustonDashSoccer.com. 

“So I think it was a great result for us, to do that on the road against a team of that quality and hopefully it’ll give us the momentum going into Friday’s game. We’ve got a real opportunity to get some more points at home.”

Chicago edged the Dash 1-0 in Illinois on May 11 then won their next two matches, both against the Boston Breakers. So they arrive in Houston on a roll, but Waldrum believes the Dash can make home advantage count. “We’re starting to play better and I’m hopeful that this will kind of spring us forward into a good run, now that we’re getting a little bit more consistency,” he said.

McLeod and forward Ella Masar played for the Red Stars last year. McLeod said that Chicago’s style means that Houston will have to take extra care when moving the ball out of defense.

“Chicago always brings a very physical game, we will expect that, they’ve been very dangerous on set pieces so we’re ready for that, and they’re a high pressing team, especially in the last couple of games they’ve taken advantage of mistakes at the back,” the goalkeeper said.

The visitors are third in the standings behind leaders Portland and Seattle Reign FC. After the past two encouraging displays and a tight 2-0 loss in Seattle on April 27, McLeod is sure that the Dash are developing into a side capable of competing with the NWSL’s best.

“I don’t think we’re far away from these teams. I think we’re an expansion team so we’ve had to do a little bit more work as far as organization and team chemistry, we have to play catchup a little bit, but I think there’s so much potential on this team,” she said. 

“What I love most about this team is that people are willing to fight and they give everything till the last minute of the game, that’s something I don’t think you can teach. The rest we can figure out.”

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.