Nina Burger’s introduction to life with the Houston Dash started at the dinner table.
The striker signed for Houston last week from SV Neulengbach, a top-level Austrian club in a town with a population of about 8,000 that’s located a 45-minute drive west of Vienna.
Conscious that a player needs to feel comfortable off the pitch if she is to perform well on it, Dash head coach Randy Waldrum is doing his best to help the 26-year-old adjust to life on a new continent. So he gave her a taste of one of Houston’s favorite cuisines by taking her to a Mexican restaurant on her first night in Texas.
“My wife and I took her to eat Mexican food, got her integrated right off the bat and she was fine with that,” Waldrum told HoustonDashSoccer.com. “And the next morning we grabbed both Osi [Ohale] and Nina and took them to breakfast. They’re rooming together.”
Ohale, a 21-year-old center back, joined initially as a trialist in preseason after playing her club soccer in her native Nigeria, and Waldrum has also placed an emphasis on helping her get to grips with America’s customs and culture.
“Getting Osi to understand what pancakes were and what a waffle was—you take those things for granted. So we’ve got to keep their mind on the fact that this is a foreign country for them and we have to help them adjust. I think it’ll be easier for Nina because it’s Europe and it’s much closer to how we are here, versus what Osi has come from,” he said.
First test: passed. “It was a very nice restaurant, really good food,” Burger told HoustonDashSoccer.com. After her first week of training with the Dash squad, the acclimatization process continues on the field this Sunday against the Chicago Red Stars (5 p.m. CT), where she is expected to make her debut.
“Two things I think will be key for her: getting used to playing with her teammates and secondly just adjusting to the league,” said Waldrum. “It’s such a different league from Europe, it’s such an athletic and physical league compared to Europe where it’s a little bit more of a tactical league. If she can adapt to that, the pace of the game and the physicality of the NWSL, then the quicker she adapts the more effective she’s going to be.”
Waldrum said it was “a little gamble” signing a player without NWSL experience, but he is confident that Burger has the talent to succeed. She has 58 caps for Austria and is the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 32. She was prolific in her nine years with Neulengbach—who are one of the powerhouses of the Austrian league—claiming the ÖFB Frauen Bundesliga scoring title six times from 2006-12 and the player of the year accolade in 2010.
Burger is also a veteran of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and scored six times in six fixtures in this season’s competition. Neulengbach were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage in March by Sweden’s Tyresö FF, where Burger came up against future Dash teammates in USWNT internationals Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg, who will arrive after the Champions League final on May 22.
Waldrum said his optimism about Burger’s potential to translate her talent into the NWSL is “based on the goals that we’ve seen her score, the track record of that. I saw her score a great goal against Bayern Munich [in February] that only a true goalscorer could score, she got the ball on the flank, turned the corner and the keeper came out and she hit it from almost no angle. She’s just a clinical finisher.”
Burger lives near Vienna and put her career as a police officer in the Austrian capital on hold to join the Dash. After achieving so much in Europe, she intends to embrace the challenge of proving herself in a new environment and hopes it will help her grow as a player and a person. “It’s a big chance to make me better,” she said.
Burger said her first impressions of the Dash and their hometown are positive: “It’s very nice here, nice people and very good players … it’s a very good league, one of the best leagues, with the German league, and I know that there are very good players, physically and technically, and I see it now. I’m really happy to be here.”
The Dash lost to FC Kansas City last weekend but can leapfrog Sunday’s opponents with a win in the new franchise’s fifth-ever NWSL fixture. After facing Chicago the Dash return home to BBVA Compass Stadium next Wednesday, May 17, to meet Portland Thorns FC (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
Engen and Klingenberg were among four Dash players to feature as the USWNT tied 1-1 with Canada in Winnipeg on Thursday night. Dash captain Erin McLeod was in goal for Canada, while recent signing Kaylyn Kyle came off the bench in the 64th minute.