Tiffany McCarty picked up the ball on the left wing with one thought in her mind: “just try and be dangerous." She was more than dangerous: she was deadly.
The Dash forward cut inside, jinked away from her marker and unleashed an unstoppable high curving shot from the edge of the penalty area past Jillian Loyden in the Sky Blue FC goal.
After that 10th-minute goal, Ella Masar added another midway through the first half and McCarty expertly pounced on a defensive mistake to seal the points late on, while captain Erin McLeod made some high-caliber saves to preserve the Dash’s first clean sheet of the year.
It was the expansion club’s second straight win—and they are intent on claiming the hat-trick in Wednesday’s doubleheader at BBVA Compass Stadium, which also features the Dynamo’s U.S. Open Cup tie with the Laredo Heat at 9 p.m.
“Now’s the time to figure out how to get it done at home. This week is a big week for us,” Dash head coach Randy Waldrum told HoustonDashSoccer.com. “The fans have been great and they deserve to see us [win] at home.”
Houston’s four games in East Downtown have all ended in defeat, though Waldrum’s side played well for long spells in two matches against Portland Thorns FC and in their most recent home game, a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Red Stars on May 23. After Wednesday’s fixture, the Dash are at home again on Saturday against FC Kansas City.
As often this season, the Dash will be without some key players—U.S. defenders Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg and Austria striker Nina Burger are with their national teams—but the Flash are also below full-strength, and Houston have already beaten them this season and are looking more cohesive with every game.
“We’re going in a good direction,” McCarty told HoustonDashSoccer.com. “Just playing more and more with someone, you get to know their tendencies.”
The 23-year-old Maryland native was selected by the Dash in this year’s NWSL Expansion Draft. After a stellar college career at Florida State University, McCarty made 21 NWSL appearances for the Washington Spirit last year, scoring twice. This term she already has three goals, having also scored a late equalizer in the 2-2 road draw with Kansas City on May 18.
Often used as an impact substitute, last Sunday underlined that McCarty can be a difference-maker when she starts, too. “She’s been very good since the second Kansas City game, she’s come on and played well ever since,” Waldrum said. “She knows I have confidence in her. I knew she could do this, she has the ability. Now she’s in a good place, knowing that her coaches and teammates believe in her.”
Waldrum said that he has also seen Kealia Ohai’s self-belief grow as the season has worn on. With Ohai and McCarty as the wide players in a front three, the Dash have the pace and trickery to trouble opposition defenses, with their skills complementing the strength and goalscoring instincts of central attackers like Burger and Masar.
The Flash are fifth in the nine-team league, and a Dash win would put Waldrum’s side only a point behind the visitors from Rochester. Houston beat them 2-1 at Sahlen’s Stadium on May 31, but Waldrum cautions that the visitors are “loaded with talent." They snapped a five-match winless streak in some style, with a 5-0 win over reigning NWSL champions Portland last Saturday.
But the Dash have also found their scoring touch, with ten goals in their past five matches, setting up an intriguing encounter on Wednesday. “Western New York is a good team also coming off a good win. It’ll be a good matchup,” said McCarty.
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.