Houston Dash promise "a hard-nosed game" for visiting Portland Thorns FC at BBVA Compass Stadium

The Dash go back to the beginning on Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium as they host Portland Thorns FC (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS) in a rematch of the new franchise’s memorable NWSL debut.

Houston delivered a strong performance against the reigning champions in front of more than 8,000 fans on April 12 but were beaten by the only goal of the match. The Dash are aiming to replicate that night’s work-rate and determination on Wednesday but add goals to the mix as they seek their second win of the young season.

Forward Ella Masar scored the first NWSL goal in Dash history in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Breakers last month after making herself an instant fan favorite with a typically feisty, all-action display against the Thorns.

“Our best game was against Portland, I thought—the way we played, the way we came out, and the fan support. The point is, we know exactly how they’re going to play and hopefully we can match them and do what we did in the first game and score this time,” she told HoustonDashSoccer.com.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, sticking to our way, we believe in what [head coach Randy Waldrum is] doing and we believe in the system and it’s going to come together … we’re going to keep fighting,” she added.

[Club president] Chris Canetti, [managing director] Brian Ching and Randy, they built our system like the [Dynamo] guys. I’ve talked to a lot of MLS friends and they’ve said they hate coming to Houston because they know what they’re going to get—a hard-nosed game, they’re going to fight and battle. And that’s what we are.

“Houston has been great in absorbing that, being there for us and I just hope it keeps on because we’re going to give them a show every time. We might not be able to control this or that but that’s our promise to the fans, that they’re going to get 90, 90-plus minutes of us leaving everything on the pitch.”

Waldrum loves the 27-year-old’s character. “You’d never question her heart, competitiveness or fight, she’s going to give you everything each time she’s on the field,” he told HoustonDashSoccer.com.

Masar may line up with prolific Austrian international Nina Burger, who made her debut in last Sunday’s 1-0 defeat away to the Chicago Red Stars and is set to make her first appearance at BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday. “The more time she gets with our players, the better she’s going to be,” Waldrum said.

He is looking for improvements in the way the forward line holds the ball up under pressure as he bids to find ways to boost the team’s goal threat. “We’re not going to use expansion as an excuse, we’re going to work hard and fight,” he said.

As well as carving out more chances, Masar said that concentration is key. “We just have to make sure that we don’t shut off. In our last couple of games, whether it’s Portland, or Chicago, or Kansas City, it was a set piece, a thing we can control. Of course we focus on who’s coming in but if we do what we need to do then that will be enough,” she said.

The fourth-placed Thorns dropped their first match of the season last Saturday, losing 1-0 to Cascadia rivals Seattle Reign FC thanks to a late goal. Missing the injured U.S. star Alex Morgan, Portland have scored six goals in five games—all of them from two players, Jessica McDonald and Allie Long. It was Long who grabbed a 24th-minute winner against the Dash last month as the midfielder connected with a McDonald long throw. 

Waldrum expects goalkeeper and captain Erin McLeod to be fit to face Portland after she missed Sunday’s game through injury. It could be the last match for several weeks for Nigerian defender Osinachi Ohale, who is heading back to her home continent for 2014 African Women’s Championship qualifiers.

Especially after a disappointing result in Illinois, a late flight on the way up and then a kick-off delayed by bad weather, the Dash are delighted to be playing at BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday. “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s not excited to be back home,” said Waldrum.