Nigel Brooks

Houston Dash defenders Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg join the team ready to make an impact

Jet lag has its benefits. Shuttling between North America and Europe, Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg found that an out-of-sync body clock was perfectly timed to watch their new club play live.

The two USWNT defenders have known since January that they would join the expansion Dash after finishing their stints with Swedish club Tyresö FF. After arriving in Houston earlier this week they took part in their first training session on Tuesday. They already knew some of the Dash players—and thanks to internet live-streaming, they have seen the team in action from afar.

“I’ve watched a few games—it’s hard to catch some when you’re in Europe,” said Klingenberg. Sweden is seven hours ahead of Texas. “Whenever we were jet-lagged we would sit up and watch and try and keep tabs on the team and see how it’s doing, what it was looking like, if we were scoring goals, how the defense is playing. We were just trying to keep up how best we can.”

Finally meeting up with her teammates in person, Engen likes what she sees. “It looks like we’ve got a great team here. I was watching them through the NWSL season and I was really excited to come out today and get on the pitch with them,” she said on Tuesday.

“I know a few girls, I’ve played with Becky Edwards before, I know Erin McLeod from playing against her with Canada, same with Kaylyn Kyle. Kealia Ohai and Kelly McFarlane from [the University of North Carolina]—we never played together but I know who they are, got to keep an eye on the younger classes. I feel like I know the girls, pretty much.

“Since day one I’ve said that this is a world-class organization and just the communication back and forth has been awesome, I feel like I’ve been included since day one, and I’m really excited to get on the field with them.”

Tyresö reached the final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League but lost 4-3 in traumatic fashion on May 22 after leading 2-0 and 3-2 earlier in the contest. The defenders said they have rebounded from that setback and are ready to go. “I got about six days at home to recharge and reenergize myself to come here and give Houston my all,” said Engen.

The club from a Stockholm suburb attracted some of the top talent from around the world and Klingenberg says that playing with such a diverse and gifted roster was a valuable experience. “We came together and we could learn something from each of them. It was really probably one of the best things that I’ve done for my game. And being able to go over there and come back here, play with the Dash, I think it’ll be a good opportunity to play a little bit of American soccer again and hopefully we can learn from each other,” she said.

Head coach Randy Waldrum is thrilled finally to have the services of two players who figure to be an integral part of the line-up. It is another boost for the Dash after their second win of the season was claimed last Saturday with a battling 2-1 road win over the Western New York Flash.

The pair are expected to make their Dash debuts away to Sky Blue FC in New Jersey on Sunday (5 p.m. CT) but will then miss the next two NWSL games thanks to international duty, as the U.S. has a couple of games against France in mid-June in Florida and Connecticut.

Klingenberg, 25, is a Pittsburgh native and, like Engen, a product of the powerhouse UNC college program. She can play in midfield as well as defense. Both players have recently become regulars on the U.S. roster. Engen, a 26-year-old Californian, has 17 caps—seven of them this year. Half of Klingenberg’s 12 senior U.S. appearances have come in 2014.

Waldrum praised Houston’s inexperienced defense. “Even though we’ve not had a clean sheet we’ve not been blown out of games so I have to give them a lot of credit, they’ve fought hard and kept us in games,” he told reporters at Houston Sports Park. He anticipates that Engen and Klingenberg will act as mentors.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our young players—to have Whitney Engen playing in front of you, if you’re Marissa Diggs, is going to go a long way. It’s one thing to be coached but it’s another to have a player right there with you who’s walking you through the process and teaching them how to be a bit more of a pro, and the same thing with Klingenberg, she’s so versatile,” he said.

Helping the novice professionals is a role that the two internationals are ready to embrace. “I think there’s a lot of potential. Whitney and I are excited to be here and join the team because I don’t think that potential’s been tapped yet. I think we have a lot of talent, have a lot of personalities and are going to work hard. I think that all we need is a little bit of leadership and experience and hopefully Whitney and I are able to bring that to the team and smoothly transition to being part of the team,” said Klingenberg. 

“I think it’ll be good because it’ll be good to play with a group of players that’s new so we can build our team together around the way that Randy wants to play, and try and get back on track with the win-loss record.”

Engen, putting it succinctly, agrees: “We just all get together and start jelling and I think this team has a chance to go pretty far,” she said. And after a year of transatlantic flights and a season that took them to the brink of claiming Europe’s most prestigious trophy, it is clear the Dash’s latest recruits know all about how to handle long journeys.

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.