The Houston Dash were always going to suffer some growing pains, but Monday’s defeat was especially agonizing. Still, Randy Waldrum is pleased by the resilience the team has shown in the wake of the 3-2 loss to the Washington Spirit and is hoping that Houston's character shines through on Saturday night when they visit the Western New York Flash (6 p.m. CT; LIVE STREAM).
“They were gutted because they played their hearts out and to give it up right at the very end is always difficult,” the head coach told HoustonDashSoccer.com. The Dash twice battled back from a goal down against the Spirit and were poised for a valuable road point until the 93rd minute, when Christine Nairn smashed an unstoppable 30-yard strike beyond Erin McLeod, who had saved a penalty kick a few minutes earlier.
“Monday’s was probably one of the harder games to pick them up from. A last minute strike, the way it was scored. But they’re still fighting. The players we’ve picked—the locker room’s strong and they still believe in each other. There was no pointing fingers. Teams can unravel when you have these things continually happen to you, and this group hasn’t,” said Waldrum.
Despite the cruel climax, there were plus points to embrace from the match, not least the two road goals. After struggling to find the net earlier in the season, the Dash have scored five goals in their past three matches and recent signing Nina Burger grabbed her first NWSL goal on Monday.
“That’s a real positive. Nina’s starting to find her way around the league a little bit, find her way around the field, she’s got a goal and an assist. Ella Masar’s found the net and we’re finding some opportunities so that’s a real positive,” Waldrum said.
Now that Burger is off the mark, the head coach is optimistic that she can replicate the prolific form she showed in her native Austria. “I think it’s huge because any goalscorer needs to put the ball in the back of the net. The longer they go, the more it’s like a batter in baseball that doesn’t get a hit for a while, you get in that slump,” he said.
“We needed it. I thought it was important that she got the assist in the Kansas City game [on May 18], you could see it was a little bit of relief on her face when she hit the ball across to Jordan Jackson. I’m hoping that’s something that can really spearhead her into getting a run going now.”
As he weighs his options in attack in the hope of developing a consistent strike partnership, Waldrum lauded Tiffany McCarty’s recent contributions. The 23-year-old Expansion Draft selection has looked lively in recent weeks. She came off the bench against the Spirit, her former club, and scored against FC Kansas City.
Five of the Dash’s seven losses have been by a one-goal margin, suggesting that minor changes could bring major improvements to the club’s position in the standings. “I think those that come watch us understand and still appreciate that we’re good, and what we’re doing is we’re building,” said Waldrum, who earned a reputation as one of the top U.S. coaches in the sport during 15 highly successful years at Notre Dame.
“I don’t think we look like an expansion team. I think people that know football would say: ‘they’re in every game. They’re not that expansion team that’s getting beat three, four, five-nothing every game because they’re not good enough’. I think we’ve been in pretty much every game other than [defeats to Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC]… we’ve been right in the thick of it even without our players from the U.S. team. So I think we’re better than the record.”
U.S. defenders Meghan Klingenberg and Whitney Engen are set to join the Dash on June 2 ahead of their anticipated debuts in the road game against Sky Blue FC six days later. Before that boost, the defense will seek its first shut-out of the season at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, 75 miles east of Buffalo.
Winless in their past three matches, the Flash sit sixth in the standings but star striker Abby Wambach, the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, has four goals in her past five games. Saturday is the first-ever meeting between the teams but the rematch is just around the corner. The Flash visit BBVA Compass Stadium on June 11 (TICKETS) for a doubleheader also featuring the Dynamo’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tie against the Laredo Heat.
July and August will bring the Dash some significant national exposure courtesy of ESPN, who will air three of the team’s games on ESPN2 or ESPN3, including home fixtures with Seattle and Sky Blue. For Waldrum, it’s an indicator of the quality of the Dash’s stadium and the passion of their supporters. “It’s not a surprise to me, I think we’ve got the facility, the fanbase, to showcase the league the way we want to showcase it,” he said.