The Houston Dash return to NWSL action tomorrow as they take on tournament host Utah Royals FC to kick off the club’s tournament run at the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup presented by Secret and P&G.
Houston will hit the field under the direction of second-year head coach James Clarkson, who joined the Dash as the fourth full-time head coach in club history prior to the 2019 season. After spending the offseason reinforcing the Dash backline and depth, Clarkson is set to begin his second year with the Dash with the goal of leading the team to its first trophy.
On the field, the new-look Dash will be led by captains Jane Campbell and Rachel Daly. Houston acquired center backs Katie Naughton, a crucial player in Chicago’s 2019 NWSL Final run, and Megan Oyster who was a stout defender for Reign FC, to solidify a defense that conceded the second-most goals in the league a year ago.
Offensively, Daly will be joined by new potent additions in Katie Stengel and Shea Groom at the forefront, creating a dangerous attack for Houston. Forwards Nichelle Prince, Veronica Latsko and Kayla McCoy are also back with the squad after suffering season-ending injuries early in the 2019 season.
Here are three key points ahead of Tuesday’s game:
1. SOLIDIFYING THE BACK LINE – Last year, the Dash conceded 36 goals in 24 matches, the second-most in the league. Not surprisingly, head coach James Clarkson’s major focus in the offseason was shoring up the back line. The Dash go into the Challenge Cup with a new pair of center backs in Oyster and Naughton, while left back Allysha Chapman, who Clarkson has called the best on-ball defender in the league, returns on one flank. At right back, Erin Simon will provide depth and experience to complete the squad’s solid defensive line.
2. DEPTH AT A PREMIUM – With every team coming to Utah with only an abbreviated “preseason” under their belts, every match being played at altitude (4,226 feet above sea level) and a schedule that has teams playing every four days, squad depth and player fitness will likely be more important now than ever. Houston has an abundance of options in the attacking third, while the midfield and back line feature a number of versatile players capable of lining up at multiple positions. For Clarkson and every coach in the tournament, squad rotation and managing minutes and matchups will be crucial keys to success.
3. PLAYING THE UNDERDOG – Coming into the tournament, most national media members picked the Dash to finish at or near the bottom of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, a fact that was not lost on head coach James Clarkson or his players. Clarkson made a point to mention that in his pre-match media availability earlier on Monday, and he and the team will surely be hungry to prove the naysayers wrong by making a deep run in the tournament. For a team that has yet to make the playoffs, this tournament could be an ideal opportunity to quickly change people’s minds.